developed by Playdead
Video game

View a still from the game

The bright eyes of a small boy shine out from the darkness. Wandering through a world akin to a film noir set, he faces the possibility of a gruesome death at every turn. He could find his body pierced with sharp spikes hidden in camouflaged pits, or crushed by large rocks that pursue him as he saunters down hillsides. Were he to make one careless movement, the pointed tip of a huge spider’s leg could emerge from the shadows and sear through his scalp.

Minimal sound effects only add to the eerie atmosphere. Most of the game’s duration is spent in haunting silence, punctured only occasionally by the sound of splattering blood or crunching bones. Along with the monochromatic visuals and unsightly death traps, the quiet creates a sense of emptiness and pessimism. As the child attempts to track down his sister, his profile tiny among the tall trees and looming structures that surround him, his mission seems destined to end in tragedy.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou

At first, Limbo’s murky backdrop may seem only for show, with its various objects acting merely as morbid props. Yet every bear trap, beastie, or hanging rope serves as a potential puzzle piece. We often pass an item without thought, only to later realise that it is essential to any prospect of progress. On occasion, we come across mechanics or items that we are yet to understand, or encounter hostile creatures with unknown weaknesses. In such instances, we have no choice but to submit to a series of grim trial and error tests.

Elsewhere, obstacles are designed to take us by surprise. Flaming tyres roll, branches fall, and boulders swing in our direction with little warning given. Each stage is designed to ensure that we experience the game in all of its gruesome glory. The title refers to the fate of unbaptised children’s souls, caught between heaven and hell, but it may as well be referencing the demanding dance of the same name. Every level makes us bend over backwards to survive, or risk falling to the floor for good. Glass may smash, ladders may snap, but our resolve must not be broken.

Words by John Wadsworth

More to discover

You can visit the game’s website here, download a demo from Steam here, and watch a playthrough here. Kevin Wong has written about Limbo’s potential meanings for Kotaku.

Question of the day

Can art help us to understand death?
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Understand, no. Accept, maybe. Art can also make death less daunting for creators as they know they ‘leave something behind’.

– Amber Arcades, musician (via The Brief →)

In as much as it helps us to understand humans.

– Evie Wyld, award-winning author of All the Birds, Singing (via The Brief →)

The goal of art was never to understand.

– Salvatore Scibona, award-winning author of The End (via The Brief →)

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