Entertainment media has constantly wrestled with the challenge of overcoming the barriers that lay between the viewer/user and presented material. Successfully transporting a person from reality into a different is typically not easy, and to do it seamlessly is even more difficult. Perhaps this is why the growing movement and push for 3D is ever more forceful. With the (not so) recent AVATAR by James Cameron, 3D has captured some support for being a viable next option in film making. And with Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit marketing itself having super 5K definition its own 3D craziness, the age of 3D may actually be in sight.
Too many people put down the 3D effect and label it as a gimmick. Sure, a lot of movies and games don’t entirely implement the effect very well, but that’s merely because the technology is still far too young to have grown maturely inside the artist’s box of tools for storytelling or artistic expression. The first color movie was introduced in the 1930s, and at the time, it was earth-shaking to see a movie in color. The sudden and remarkable change from monochrome to flower power was definitely received with mixed reactions. It took several years, though, for filmmakers and producers to fully grasp the usage of color and implement it as efficiently as they did with screen composition, scriptwriting, and etc.
The most current mindset of most filmmakers and game developers on the advent of 3D describe it as a method of helping audiences enter their imaginary world more fully. This direction is perfectly reasonable, as it does add depth to the visual field, but video games and movies don’t have to all swarm with the 3D movement quite yet when there is still so much potential in 2D (or pseudo 3D) methods of creating an inhabitable and interactive world that carries a visual, auditory, and mesmerizing adventure.
Limbo, which is the point of this post, is the perfect example of a multitude of crafts working together in harmony to create something astounding. With no text, no dialogue, and no explanation, it manages to communicate circumstance and causality to the player more simply than most games. The game play is sleek, straightforward (but creative and sometimes mind bending), and emotive.
You control a young boy who wakes up in a forest with no indication of who you are, how you got there, or where you’re going. It’s remarkable how quickly the tone is set for the story, especially when playing in a dark room. The nonexistent interface allows you to fully indulge in the details that make the scenery both mesmerizing and eerie. You quickly find out, however, that this place is dangerous (after dying in a multitude of unexpected and gruesome manners), and then the goal of the game becomes clear: get the hell out of there.
No cut scenes or loading screens will interrupt the action, making it easy to be swept away by Limbo’s disturbing world. From beginning to end, the game never stops surprising, delighting, and horrifying the player.
I’ve appended some notes that I took while playing the game, which reveals how many reactions I had while working through the levels. I tried to be as evocative and descriptive as possible (though it may be slightly exaggerated due to my playing the game in the wee hours of the night). Spoilers follow, however, since I also react to what actually occurs in the game.
- Monochrome (Black/White); deep glow in the depths of the forest is really pretty
- It’s hard to see and differentiate what’s in the front or in the back at times, but I suppose that’s the point
- Controls are super easy!
- Who knew that my head could roll that far…
- Music is (or lack thereof)…scary.
- Sounds are scary!
- OMG, children! Play with me!
- OMG, children trying to kill me!
- Speared right through the chest…ouch.
- I’ve died at least 20 times in ten minutes…
- AMG, GIGANTIC SPIDER
- AH I’M STUCK IN A SPIDER NEST
- AAAAAAH, IT’S WEB-WRAPPING ME FOR LUNCH! IT’S GONNA EAT MEEE
- Oh…it left…must…escape…
- Wow…I look like a hopping mummy…
- Phew…I’VE NEVER BEEN SO SCARED IN MY LIFE. I officially will never play Amnesia, The Dark Descent
- More people!
- Trying to kill me! Argh.
- Why do you hate me? I JUST WANT FRIENDS
- Whoa, the music is muffled when I’m underwater. Neat.
- Kind of sucks how you can’t swim…
- Got crushed by a falling log…
- Current Death Count: ERROR, Overflow
- Worm that sucks your brain and controls how you walk…ARGH.
- Modifiable gravity…mind blown.
- Rotating level…INCEPTION!!!
- A GIRL! Must … wait…is she gonna kill me?
- Uh Oh…ending scene…I’m scared…is she actually a monster?
- DUDE THAT WAS FREAKING AWESOME.
You can probably tell that as the game continued, I got more involved and less aware of the technical specifics of the game, which is superb. The game itself ends pretty quickly though, amounting to about 4 hours (it varies with how good at puzzles you are), and parts of the story lag slightly or appear out slightly incoherent. There is a section where we enter an industrial setting (after having trudged through forest and caves) and ultimately conveys a sense of isolation within a lifeless environment. Perhaps it was the game designer’s intention to make you feel slightly detached from the area we were exploring, but it did so to a point where I seriously didn’t care about the environment. I suddenly felt apathetic, working puzzle after puzzle, hoping for some kind of climax. Near the end of the game, really awesome mechanics are implemented, which throw your brain for a whirl, but the game ends so abruptly afterwards that you sit through the credits, hoping that there’s more.
Ultimately, Limbo is about persevering, no matter the challenge, and that means dying. A lot. Dying so often was actually quite taxing on my emotional stability. I couldn’t play the game for more than 1.5 hour increments because I felt like I was losing my sanity piece by piece. It also helped to return to the game with a fresh mind because many problems in the game are solved by noticing very subtle signs. Puzzles are solved not only through the presented visuals, but also in the sound design (which is brilliant). Many puzzles require you to listen carefully for sound effects that will clue you in on how to get past them. While there isn’t much of a soundtrack in the traditional sense, the ambient noises really instill a sense of dread in the player.
If you yet thought about playing Limbo, I highly recommend you do. The game itself is nothing short of astonishing, and it’s accessible for leisure and hardcore gamers alike. Limbo is instilled with enough dark humor, subtle charm, and extraordinary presentation that it was one of the few games that had my intention 100% of the time.