Video games are currently facing the issue of acceptance as an art form just as worthy of respect as film, music, or literature. While there are certainly champions for either side of this debate, too often the medium isn't allowed to speak for itself. We'll listen to Roger Ebert voice his doubts (to name but one detractor) and we'll tolerate floods of asinine and overzealous counter-arguments from a passionate but largely misguided community. But will we listen to what the medium itself has to say? Most times, we're so busy shouting at each other that we don't hear it.

How appropriate is it, then, that the most compelling argument to arrive in recent memory has no lines of dialogue, no lines of text beyond menus and credits, and a sound design so sparse and consciously hollow that the game itself barely makes a sound?

Limbo is this argument; a 2D puzzle and platform game created by Danish developer Playdead. You control the silhouette of a boy traversing a bleak and hopeless monochrome world as you navigate a series of devious traps and puzzles. There's no explicit plot or narrative, and no music or colour. Just you, the sound of your footsteps and breath, and a tenebrous world constantly oppressing and unnerving you.

Quite curiously, Limbo competently reaches its aspiration of artistic accomplishment without the appearance of too much effort. Its minimalist visual and sound design gently coax players into immersion without dragging them in. The gameplay is so unobtrusive that you quickly forget you're playing a game in the same way that effective theatre displays characters and not actors. The only real misstep is how the ending sequences betray illusion and atmosphere in favour of obtuse physics puzzles. But the entire game before this point, with its commitment to an air of paranoia and intensity, is superb. This is owing in no small part to its “trial and death” philosophy, grim imagery, and a truly menacing arachnid antagonist.

Some may find Limbo a bit too short, others a bit too discouraging, and many more will probably find it too bleak and depressing. But for $10, it's definitely worth a look. Remember: you're not just getting a cost-efficient and devious platform puzzler; you're getting one of the best examples for video games as a work of interactive art.

Due to an exclusivity agreement between developer Playdead and publisher Microsoft Game Studios, Limbo was exclusive to the Xbox 360 for a year after its summer 2010 release, only being made available on PS3 and Steam (a PC digital distribution service) this August.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: Indie Game Spotlight #2: Limbo
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