From The Game Shelf: LIMBO

Like an old Universal horror film stylized after the fashion of German expressionism, comes Limbo, the downloadable XBOX 360 game from Playdead Studios.

The gaming elements aren’t unique. It’s essentially a puzzle platformer in which you take on the personae of a little boy dropped in the middle of….well, Limbo. Without spoken dialog, or any real plot beyond this simple premise, the game unfolds with deceptive simplicity, the black and white graphics at first reminding one of an old silent film, and then becoming something more, something that works subliminally on the player until an uneasiness settles on the shoulders and the pathos of the game scars the psyche. The puzzles are occasionally challenging, and some downright impossible at first, but working them through serves to draw a stronger connection between the player and the little boy he or she manipulates onscreen.

Seriously.

This is art, a term critic Roger Ebert has resisted pinning on a videogame. Nonetheless, the visuals and the mood they are able to evoke are profound and disturbing. And while one might think gore in black and white, usually limited to silhouette, would be a tame experience, that assumption would be incorrect. Watching the little boy’s frail black shape, with its white button eyes, smashed to bits in one failed puzzle, decapitated by bear traps, or skewered by an enormous black arachnid in another, is often terrifying and gut-wrenching.

Perhaps an argument could be made that Limbo is limited in its scope, without story depth and dialogue, rendered as a downloadable arcade piece. However, it is presented with enough different facets of varying complexity to be at once entirely engaging and disturbing.

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