|Console||PC/Mac/Linux, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U|
|Publisher||Playdead, Microsoft Studios|
|Genre||Platformer, puzzle, horror, indie|
|Purchase (PC/Mac/Linux)||Click here to purchase from Steam.|
|Purchase Special Edition (PC)||Click here to purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase (PS4)||Click here to purchase from Amazon.|
Some people debate whether video games are art or not. While they can be, people don’t exactly compare video games to the works of Vincent van Gogh or Salvador Dalí.
But you know, it’s the same old story.
- “Music can’t be art.”
- “Novels can’t be art.”
- “Comic books can’t be art.”
- “Cartoons can’t be art.”
- “Television shows can’t be art.”
- “Movies can’t be art.
- “Websites can’t be art.”
- “Video games can’t be art.”
It’s the same bullshit we heard every time. Maybe around the time when virtual reality simulations become more commonplace, people will start saying you can’t make fine art out of that too. Sorry, Roger Ebert, gone from this world as you may be. I do not agree with your views on video games. Same with you, Hideo Kojima. You should know better considering how much your fans loved your productions beyond the superficial. Games go beyond just being a “service.”
So hold on. Animation can be considered a form of fine art. Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is considered to be a major hallmark in the field.
What is a video game, other than a moving picture that a person can directly control? A picture in which the person can interact with and make decisions with? Isn’t the fact that you experience the game’s narrative yourself enough to say that video games are a unique artistic medium?
But I digress. If there is a good example I can provide, one would be LIMBO.
The first project of developer Playdead, LIMBO is a 2D puzzle platformer that had become such a big hit that it was made available on more than five different gaming platforms. You can play it on your computer, on your Xbox 360, on your PS3, on your Wii U, on your Xbox One, on your PS4, on your toaster, on your—
Good god, it’s everywhere. This one game still being played since its release on 2010.
So, let’s begin.
You play as an unknown little boy, who is stranded out in the middle of the woods. While you have no idea on what this is about yet, you are encouraged to explore and simply take in the gorgeous scenery.
What immediately catches your eye is the game’s art style. It’s a simple art style consisting of black silhouettes for the majority of solid objects and living creatures. A mixture of blurs and gradients gives off the illusion of distance between objects. The detailed shapes of the silhouettes allow you to distinguish between rocks, trees, ropes, etc.
The film grain overlaying the screen gives you the impression that you are experiencing an old-fashioned horror movie, not too different from the likes of Nosferatu, Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, Eraserhead, and The Haunting. Right away, the game portrays a dark and eerie tone that will persist the entire way.
The sound design is also brilliantly done, often changing between environments you enter. Walking on the grass, background winds picking up, rain pouring down, the clanging as your feet hits the metal floors, the sickening crunch of bodies getting torn apart—which we’ll go over later. This is the type of game where you can play through on a set of headphones and stay relaxed—until things come out to kill you. The game’s progressive atmosphere somehow makes it both realistic and dreamlike.
The ambient soundtrack helps add a new dimension into the events of the game, often cuing the more suspenseful or chaotic moments that keep you waiting for what is to come.
All this brings about a brilliant form of visual storytelling. Combined with simple gameplay that is practically second nature, it’s very easy to get sucked into the game.
And speaking of gameplay, the controls are very simple. You can move the boy around and your other controls are jump and pull. Often, you will come across obstacles that require you to think outside of the box in order for you to proceed.
Sometimes, it can be using an object as a makeshift platform.
Sometimes, it can be using an object as a makeshift bridge.
Sometimes, it can be using an object as a makeshift platform… for getting these weird, little chompy things on a ceiling to eat a glowing maggot that is feeding on your brain and controlling your movements.
But for the most part, the main difficulty behind these physics-based puzzles is figuring out the right timing. Generally, it’s easy to figure out most of the solutions but so many of them require precise timing. And sometimes, missing that opportune moment gets you killed.
Did anyone hear something?
Ahh! What the hell!
The story is told entirely in the events of the game. No text or dialogue whatsoever. While it is a simple story, it’s quite unique to see shown in the purest sense rather than being told. It’s basically a story about a little boy searching for his sister. And the events of the game really do raise questions.
- Why do the environments make sudden shifts from giant forests to industrial factories?
- Why are people either trying to kill others or themselves?
- Why is literally everything out to kill you, a little boy?
- Why does this boy have to travel through such extreme places to reach his sister?
- Why is the boy the only living person with eyes in this game?
And that is really what makes this game so grim. This little boy has to brave so many hazardous environments, in a world that seems to distort logic in favor of death and violence.
I mean, just look at him getting shred to pieces!
Giant forest spiders, buildings that flood almost immediately to the point of overfilling, giant neon signs that electrocute you, giant circular saws that seem to serve no other purpose in existing other than to kill this boy.
Really, what the actual fuck!
With such odds stacked against him, it’s like the world wants him dead.
Just look at that smug son of a bitch on the other side. It’s like he’s mocking your chances of survival.
Damn. When even the world wants you to die, chances are that you’re fucked.
Unfortunately, the game is quite linear and there isn’t a whole lot regarding optional objectives. By finding and squashing these hidden insect eggs, you can earn achievements.
And by collecting all achievements (save one), you gain access to a secret detour that presents a new challenge and lets you collect the last achievement.
And yeah, that’s about it. This hidden passage doesn’t really offer any new perspective in the story, so it’s really more of a completionist challenge.
And because the story is purely told visually, we get pretty loose interpretations on what really happened.
The game’s title is one hint, referring to a place in the afterlife that borders Heaven or Hell. This could imply that the boy died sometime before the events of the game. And due to the fact that this place has been trying to kill you for the whole game, one may guess that we’re pretty much in Hell at this point. Why the boy has eyes is anyone’s guess. This would imply that he is different from every other person or creature he encounters. Maybe he was alive through the whole game. But then, what is with that ending?
I’m not going to give away the ending but let’s say that it only raised more questions. Did the boy somehow redeem himself? Was it all a dream? What was the girl looking at?
But with all this said, it’s not hard to see how this game could be considered “fine art.” It is, in my eyes at least. A common expression going about is that art is subjected to personal interpretation, not understanding.
The game simply doesn’t tell you anything. You just have to piece the events together on your own and build your own perspective on what the game’s real plot is.
Sure, we get Call of Duty games up the ass the same way that Michael Bay keeps putting out these testosterone-fueled drivel that he calls movies. You’ll always see games like those. They don’t really make you think. You just want to see shit blow up.
But a game like LIMBO is the kind that explores new possibilities on how games can be presented to us. It’s really one of those “artsy” games that focuses more on your experience of the game rather than worrying about the gameplay. It has a subtle charm that most games cannot achieve, and I believe it is worthwhile to have multiple playthroughs of it just to experience it all over again. Maybe it’s not the same for others, but this game spoke to me in a way
With that said, I’m looking forward to Playdead’s next game, Inside.
- The game’s purely visual storytelling and minimalist gameplay make it easier for you to get immersed.
- The art style is especially effective in portraying the game’s subtly creepy environment, giving you a sense that you’re running through a dark dream world.
- The sound design and soundtrack do an excellent job in emphasizing the more suspenseful or intense moments.
- The physics-based puzzles help you think outside of the box, exploring unique options to move forward in the game.
- The story isn’t clear cut and is ambiguous, though this may not be a bad thing if you don’t mind drawing your own conclusions.
- Very little extra content, mainly to present a new completionist challenge.