Limbo is a puzzle–platformvideo game developed by independent studio Playdead and originally published by Microsoft Game Studios for Xbox 360. The game was released in July 2010 on Xbox Live Arcade, and has since been ported by Playdead to several other systems, including the PlayStation 3, Linux and Microsoft Windows. Limbo is a 2Dside-scroller, incorporating a physics system that governs environmental objects and the player character. The player guides an unnamed boy through dangerous environments and traps as he searches for his sister. The developer built the game’s puzzles expecting the player to fail before finding the correct solution. Playdead called the style of play “trial and death”, and used gruesome imagery for the boy’s deaths to steer the player from unworkable solutions.
The game is presented in black-and-white tones, using lighting, film grain effects and minimal ambient sounds to create an eerie atmosphere often associated with the horror genre. Journalists praised the dark presentation, describing the work as comparable to film noir and German Expressionism. Based on its aesthetics, reviewers classified Limbo as an example of video games as an art form. Limbo received critical acclaim, but its minimal story polarised critics; some critics found the open-ended work to have deeper meaning that tied well with the game’s mechanics, while others believed the lack of significant plot and abrupt ending detracted from the game. A common point of criticism from reviewers was that the high cost of the game relative to its short length might deter players from purchasing the title, but some reviews proposed that Limbo had an ideal length. The game has been listed among the greatest games of all time.
Limbo was the third-highest selling game on the Xbox Live Arcade service in 2010, generating around $7.5 million in revenue. It won several awards from industry groups after its release, and was named as one of the top games for 2010 by several publications. Playdead’s next title, Inside, was released in 2016, and revisited many of the same themes presented in Limbo.
The player controls the boy throughout the game. As is typical of most two-dimensional platform games, the boy can run left or right, jump, climb onto short ledges or up and down ladders and ropes, and push or pull objects. Limbo is presented through dark, greyscale graphics and with minimalist ambient sounds, creating an eerie, haunting environment. The dark visuals also serve to conceal numerous lethal surprises, including such environmental and physical hazards as deadly bear traps on the forest floor, or lethal monsters hiding in the shadows. Among the hazards are glowing worms, which attach themselves to the boy’s head and force him to travel in only one direction until they are killed.
The game’s second half features mechanical puzzles and traps using machinery, electromagnets, and gravity. Many of these traps are not apparent until triggered, often killing the boy. The player is able to restart at the last encountered checkpoint, with no limits placed on how many times this can occur. Some traps can be avoided and used later in the game; one bear trap is used to clamp onto an animal’s carcass, hung from the end of a rope, tearing the carcass off the rope and allowing the branch and rope to retract upwards and allow the boy to climb onto a ledge otherwise out of reach. As the player will likely encounter numerous deaths before they solve each puzzle and complete the game, the developers call Limbo a “trial and death” game. Some deaths are animated with images of the boy’s dismemberment or beheading, although an optional gore filter on some platforms blacks out the screen instead of showing these deaths. Game achievements (optional in-game goals) include finding hidden insect eggs and completing the game with five or fewer deaths.