Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
(Image credit: Playdead)
Limbo was released when indie platformers were stuck in an unsubtle age of big metaphors, all being explored by sad boys who must travel to the right. But the spider works even if it isn’t a metaphor. It’s just a very good spider, with deliberate movements, slow then sudden, arching legs and hairy body, all designed to make even people who aren’t afraid of spiders feel sympathy for arachnophobes.
The first time you see the spider, big as a house compared to you, a tiny blinking shadow boy, it’s simply an impediment. Get too close and the spider impales you—a grotesque animation that makes me worry for the mental health of Limbo’s designers—but otherwise lets you be. The only way to pass is to go back for a bear trap and use its metal teeth to bite through the spider’s legs. After you sever three legs the giant spider flees.
I mean, you could have just gone around, but this is a two-dimensional afterlife/nightmare you’re trapped in.
The second time you encounter the spider she spins you up in a cocoon like Shelob for her children to eat. Of course you escape, hopping away wrapped in silk, until you meet Limbo’s other memorable enemies: The boys. These savage, Lord of the Flies jerks are somehow more hateable than the giant spider. They’re malicious, deploying traps hidden behind other traps, and laughing at your death like it’s all a joke.
By comparison, at first the spider wants to be left alone. Later she wants to feed you to her hungry children. These are understandable motivations. Now she wants revenge on you, and in her blind fury she rampages through the boys’ treetown. It’s easy to feel a moment of satisfaction. They got what they deserved.
When you roll a boulder over her, it’s almost unfair.
But the boys leave you with a final gift, a spike pit too wide to jump across. When the spider drags herself out from under the boulder for one last attack, it’s an opportunity more than a threat. She’s only got one leg left to stab at you, and pitifully drag herself about with. You have to grab that leg, wrench it free from her torso, then roll her fibrous body to the right—always to the right—until you reach the pit. Her body becomes your bridge to freedom, once you shove her onto the spikes.
Nothing that comes later in Limbo manages to be this effective. There are plenty of spiders in videogames—too many, maybe—but Limbo’s is the only one I remember feeling not just hatred and fear but actual regard for. This short story of terror tinged with respect ending in pity and a pit, is Limbo’s one moment of perfection.