Before we start let's get one thing straight, Limbo shouldn't be judged against 2008's Braid. Sure, they're both 2D platform titles with a similar goal, but that's where the comparisons end. While Braid was awash with colour and revolved around time bending puzzles, Limbo is a much darker experience entirely. Critics often pray for an independent developer to create something special, and that's exactly what Playdead has managed to do. It's difficult to compare Limbo with any other game on current consoles. Ico for PlayStation 2 is just about the only example that springs to mind. Here's proof that you don't need the latest piece of technology to make a great game, you just need some creative spark and a vision. The Xbox Live Arcade is home to many gorgeous exclusive titles, most of which retail for less than a fifth of high profile releases. Now it has one more.
Limbo begins without any form of introduction. There's no establishment of characters, plot or control scheme; leaving you with the task of learning how the game works. The opening scene places you in a woodland area, where the shape of a child can be seen lying on the ground. From this point, you'll need to initiate proceedings with the tap of a button. Two white lights will flicker and eventually stay constant; once this happens, your journey through a frightening world begins. The boy's quest to reach his sister won't be easy. Pits housing treacherous spikes and a giant spider are two early obstacles that players will need to overcome. Gameplay involves numerous puzzles, all of which are intricately designed. Everyone who plays through Limbo will, without question, meet a puzzle that baffles them. Trying to figure out a solution, and realising that each object has a place and purpose, will ultimately conclude with an enormous sigh of relief and satisfaction; the likes of which few puzzle games can conjure up so brilliantly. Granted, these scenarios play a crucial role in keeping Limbo so engaging; but there's also something else, something that we haven't seen in a long time. A true emotional connection between player and character. The boy personifies innocence; his delicate movement, those eyes that can somehow convey a sense of dread, the heartwarming story. It's difficult to describe with words, but you're going to feel attached to this little black outline.
That leads onto the next point, as you'll notice that Limbo isn't a colourful game. From forests to factories, the world is portrayed using a mixture of black, white and grey. Screenshots alone won't be able to convey how natural and haunting this world is, nor will they be able to show you the fluid movements of characters and creatures. Every minute of Limbo is shown through a retro filter, similar to an old fashioned projector. All of this helps to create one of the most unsettling and eerily beautiful environments that you're ever likely to witness. The atmosphere is key, because without it, Limbo would lack the sense of fear that it evokes so incredibly well. Walking through a dark cave will see your character disappear apart from his white gaze, sending shivers down your spine, and this furthermore increases your urge to help this little boy in a desperate attempt to find his sister. Even though Limbo centers around an innocent child, that doesn't mean he won't be the subject of a gruesome death or two. In a brave move by the developers, you're going to see this adorable fellow being plucked apart from each joint, falling through spikes amid gallons of blood, struggling for breath while the light fades from his eyes, and frequently electrocuted. There's a continuing impression that it's your duty to help him, and the prevailing sense of urgency only heightens this. Anyone with a heart will feel disappointed in themselves for letting such a fragile soul meet death in this manner, creating a close bond, the likes of which Fumito Ueda would be proud of.
As a way of keeping the player connected and fully enveloped within this fantasy, the HUD has been completely removed. You won't find any regenerating shield meters or giant red hearts, because almost every mistake leads to instant death. Playing Limbo with the lights turned off makes it all the more stunning to look at. From pencil to pixel, the vision has been digitalised in impeccable fashion. On the other hand, audio has been tackled in a different manner. In most cases, music will enhance the atmosphere of a video game. However, with Limbo, the developer has wisely chosen to follow an alternate path. Parents will often ask their children in an empty room; what's that sound? Silence. Limbo is devoid of a soundtrack, instead placing the emphasis on sound effects as a way of increasing the fearful atmosphere that's present from start to finish. Aside from the brief moment of sound that kicks in once players have solved a puzzle; the only noises that can be heard are of cogs turning, valves hissing, water dripping and the visceral dismemberment of limbs. Very few games can achieve this level of atmosphere without using an orchestra or some form of music. It's this lack of sound that makes progression increasingly tense, a trait which can clearly be seen in Ico's spiritual successor, Shadow of the Colossus. It mightn't last for the same length of time, but Limbo is equally engrossing and brilliant, just like its influential brothers.
Microsoft has received an expected backlash to the pricing of new release titles on Xbox Live. It's understandable to see people refusing to pay twenty dollars for a game that only lasts between three and fours hours. Ironically, a lot of these people crave originality so there needs to be a compromise somewhere. Take into account that many full retail games nowadays last for a mere six hours, and you'll see that Limbo really is great value, especially when one playthrough isn't enough. Using a walkthrough is the wrong way to go about playing Limbo, total enjoyment can only be found by maxing out the work rate of your brain cells. After reaching the emotional and poignant ending, you'll notice that Limbo is full of little secrets. Ten achievements relate to finding hidden eggs, and all of them are a joy to find. If you're a completionist, then you're going to revel in the challenge of unlocking the final achievement; finishing Limbo in one session with five deaths or less. Even the most hardened fans will struggle, but rest assured, there's plenty of quality to warrant the price tag.
Genuinely, Limbo is probably as close as you can get to perfection on Xbox Live. Outstanding design, glorious visuals, an unquestionable sense of maturity and emotion; it's rare to see all of these attributes culminate into a single piece of gaming genius. If you choose not to play Limbo, you'll be missing one of the most inspiring games this generation has seen. If you believe that video games are an art-form, then this is your Mona Lisa.