November 25, 2012 by eclare138
LIMBO is not all that unique of a game. Despite its “art” label, it is just a puzzle game that utilizes platforming and physics elements. It could be gathered that the art label is then derived more from its visual and aural aesthetics. Which, opposed to its gameplay qualities, are quite unique and help to create a somber and dark mood. Though the idea that art has to be serious and angst ridden is problematic, LIMBO certainly achieves this angle incredibly well.
Visually, LIMBO’s style is a monochromatic color scheme which easily lends itself to a bleak and overbearing mood is used with lots of dark shades. The game also uses harsh lines and tend to forgo gradation to achieve and chiaroscuro effect, but in an interesting reversal the main subjects the young boy and most of the puzzles and objects in the midground) are what is shrouded in darkness, the background being clearly illuminated. Usually this lighting style illuminates the subject while obscuring the background. This works to LIMBO’s advantage. The lighting style helps to clarify and illustrate the world that the player is moving through while simultaneously making the objects and space that the player interacts with directly ambiguous. This is useful in a couple of ways. Firstly, it makes booby traps and other various dangers easier to conceal, helping to hinder the player and encourage the trial by error play style. Secondly, it works to foster uneasiness and timidity in the player since direct threats are never quite easily discernible. Thirdly, it helps to make the game’s gore and disturbing imagery much more flexible. Many disturbing things are shown in LIMBO, corpses of children and graphic deaths are shown within with the first half hour of play. However, the gore and overall unpleasantness of these images are obscured, and the player is shown only a shadow of these things. This implied gore helps to make the game more accessible to more squeamish or sensitive players who could not handle more direct representations while letting players who are more jaded color in the lines of perception with their own mental images, which can often be more grisly than anything the developers could think up or even be allowed to put into the game. The game also has a film grain effect filter applied to it gives an illusion of mist obscuring the screen. When this is coupled with the items in the foreground blocking the player’s view it helps to foster a feeling of the player being an observer within the game space rather than just viewing a screen. The objects in the foreground also help the player to feel that they are almost predatory in relation to the young boy, similar to how point-of-view shots in horror and thriller films tend to be attributed to antagonist’s perspective.
Aurally, LIMBO is just as interesting. There is barely any music, and the music that is present is just long, low, single notes and tend to mimic sounds effects rather than music. Sound manipulation is where LIMBO tends to shine. Most games tend to have a fairly constant volume level. Music, actions, and ambient noise all tend to keep a steady level for significant periods of time. LIMBO swings wildly between two extremes. Sometimes, LIMBO is oppressively quiet. There is only the sound of the young boy’s footsteps and maybe chirp of a cricket. During these sections the room was filled with chatter, similar to how people try to desperately to fill awkward silences. It is not hard to see how if someone was playing this game alone in silence how they could grow uneasy. These quiet moments provide a stark contrast to the times when LIMBO becomes unbearably loud. In certain sections all of those small sound effects build up to a roaring noise. The footsteps, scraping of wood, hum of bugs, rushing water, and groans of disused machines all become a cacophony that rings in the player’s ears. The frequent switching between these two extremes put the player in both a state of physical and mental discomfort, making the dark mood and frustrating gameplay all the more exhausting.
Does LIMBO deserve to be called art? It seems interesting to me that all of the elements that make LIMBO standout and contribute to its dark mood having nothing to do with its being as a game. Though gameplay arguments aside, LIMBO’s use of sensory manipulation to create unease is fantastic in and of itself, and other media could take pointers from it, art or not.