A boy wanders through ink-black forests and somber landscapes in search of his sister. The journey is laden with danger. Towering tarantulas, sinister swamps and deadly bear traps are lurking in this near-silent, black-and-white dreamland.
This is, more or less, the storyline of Limbo, released on 21 July to hugely positive reviews and today among the five most popular games, globally, for Xbox Live. Developed by Copenhagen-based Playdead, Limbo is the first of five video games in Microsoft's Summer of Arcade promotion series – an unquestionably unique starting point for a Danish video game which, at that, comes across as strikingly different.
Reviewers highlight the game's simplicity, elegant visuals and haunting atmosphere.
"The graphical style of Limbo is unlike anything seen in a video game to date – for one thing, it's all black and white with shades of gray," comments Philip Miner from PlanetXbox360.com, who finds the graphics, at times, "downright scary in their tone".
Also with reference to the overall minimalism, Daemon Hatfield from IGN.com is struck by the way Limbo "manages to communicate circumstance and causality to the player more simply than most games. (…) No cut scenes or loading screens will interrupt the action, making it easy to be swept away in Limbo's disturbing world."
The lack of concrete explanations is precisely what makes Limbo "a superb adventure from beginning to end", as Tom Mc Shea from GameSpot.com sums up.
A market for the singularly creative
Already in March, Limbo was honoured with two awards at the Independent Games Festival in San Francisco. With its present critical and commercial success, Playdead and creator Arnt Jensen's enigmatic puzzle-and-platform game has sparked new hope for a revival of the Danish video game industry, which holds a substantial talent mass but lacks sufficient venture capital.
The example set by Limbo, according to experts, is first of all that there is a market for independent game developers, if they focus on developing their own singular artistic ideas – on small budgets.
Limbo has received development funding from the Danish Film Institute's video game programme, set up as a two-year support programme (ending 2009) aiming at strengthening the industry and ensuring its dynamics and diversity.