I’ve been spending summer playing a couple of Xbox 360 games situated in dark nightmare worlds. One is Microsoft Studios’ and Remedy’s Alan Wake, which could be described as an homage to Stephen King (so much so that they name-drop him in the opening credits); the other is Limbo, an Xbox Live Arcade game: 

Calling Limbo a “2-D side-scroller game” does it as much injustice as referring to Red Dead Redemption as “a cowboy third-person shooter”. Limbo is the most gorgeous and haunting side-scroller I’ve ever played.

The world of Limbo is a monochromatic one, shrouded in gloom and fog and nothing but the game itself. The screenshot below shows what the game actually looks like while you’re playing:

Limbo screenshot: the boys runs towards some rolling flaming logs

No heads-up display, score or distractions of any kind: it’s just you and Limbo’s world. The controls are minimal – you just use the left thumbstick to move, the A button to jump and the B button to perform actions on things (typically push or pull objects). Where Limbo goes deep is gameplay – this game really sucks you in.

Limbo screenshot: the boy comes across a body hanging from a noose
You control your character, a young boy who wakes up in a dark forest, with no idea what’s going on. There’s no opening cinematic, no explanatory text, no little pop-up hints, but somehow the game manages to convey a sense of what to do next solely through the way the game reacts to your actions. The developers, Playdead – an indie game dev shop in Copenhagen – did an amazing job in programming Limbo to communicate just through gameplay.

Limbo screenshot: The body travels across a body of water in a boat

With its black-and-white graphics, smooth animation, minimal sound (you only hear things you need to hear) and the many, many ghoulish ways your character will die as you learn to navigate the game’s many deadly puzzles and traps, Limbo feels like the sort of ghastly-but-addictive game that Edward Gorey might have conjured up, had he decided to take up programming rather than becoming an illustrator.

Limbo screenshot: the boy encounters a pit filled with spikes and two children bearing spears

As of this writing, Limbo has a Metacritic score of 90, placing it just below Super Street Fighter IV and Red Dead Redemption, having earned heaps of praise from all sorts of reviewers, including this one.

Limbo may just be the best Xbox Live Arcade game ever released, and I suspect it’ll be in my “Top 5” for 2010. If you’re looking for a stand-out game for your Xbox 360, Limbo is well worth the 1200 Microsoft Points.

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.