Reposted from PopMatters Multimedia Reviews.
There are a few games we can look to as strong aesthetic experiences– games which strike us visually and tonally on the level of a good film or painting. Independent Danish studio PlayDead’s Limbo can definitely be counted among these. Everything about this title, from its stark, nostalgic opening title card to its Gaussian glowing lights, shallow focus and rich shadows, brings to mind some lost F.W. Murnau film. There’s something about Limbo, in tone as well as texture, that just screams its German expressionist roots: the anxiety, the ambivalence, and grim atmosphere are all palpable from the first screen, and follow the player through every puzzle and its harrowing descent into the dark.
‘Limbo,’ like ‘purgatory,’ arrives in our shared mythological lexicon via Catholicism, as a place where dead technicalities go. Although sometimes treated as the edge of Hell, it’s often viewed as a sort of neutral place, often lifeless, and far from comfortable. People who wind up in Limbo aren’t generally evil, but they aren’t godly in the conventional Catholic sense, either. It’s this role, as a morally-ambivalent inbetween space, that makes Limbo a fond subject in storytelling in both the literal and metaphorical sense– it’s a place for uncertainty and negotiation of the self, the rationalization of the unpleasant. And there are plenty of unpleasant things in Limbo, just as much as it is beautiful.