Release Date: June 29, 2016
Developer: Playdead Games
Publisher: Playdead Games
Genre: Single Player, Adventure, Platformer
System: Xbox One (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows
I remember back when Limbo came out, I was a little hesitant to buy into the intrigue. After all, as evidenced by games like No Man’s Sky, the hype can often make or break a game long before it even comes out. It sets expectations for the experience the games have to live up to for players, ones they’re not even sure they want to have just yet. However, Playdead’s creation Limbo was the type of game the exception to the means – a genuinely atmospheric, artistically intriguing and genuinely entertaining experience. The 2-D macabre puzzle platformer was inventive in its solutions, and the ambiguous, wordless narrative left players room to have their own interpretation of the story.
Inside is an evolution of Limbo top to bottom, and that’s a good thing. From the creative puzzles to solve, the confident art style, the ambience and wordless narration — the culmination of these elements provide a better, stronger experience. Playdead has created a unique, rare experience that can be hard to eloquently explain — any dissemination of information would take away from the experience. The best way to put it is this way; if players loved Limbo, they’ll like Inside a lot. If they haven’t played Limbo and wanted to take a chance on Inside, the roughly three-and-a-half hour experience is worth it.
Playdead Games knows their gameplay style, and they’re damn good at it.
The World is Dark, Gloomy, and Mysterious
I’m just going to say this for the story; players start their game as a boy who is being hunted by an unknown organization. There is more to the story, but if I give out more, that would ruin the fun of what players will find in their roughly three and a half hour journey.
Whereas Limbo was sparse in its environmental detail and had more of an old-school cartoon feel to it (less detail, grainy, black-and-white, etc.), Inside is figuratively and literally much more solid in scope. The world is full of sharp, contrasting details to paint a dystopian, militaristic like world that diverges from the dreamlike, sparse world of its predecessor. In both the background, foreground, and in the perspective of the protagonist, a lot is going on that takes a lot of time to process but gives very little time to. That’s because things that exist – creatures, environments – all rely on both ambiguity and detail to help propel the story forward.
The world of Inside also constantly shifts, turns, and keeps players guessing on what they’re going to see next. Some of the elements are baffling and confusing, some are realistic, but in terms of the world of Inside, everything feels like it makes sense. While there can be difficulty suspending disbelief for some things, Inside makes it easier to do so. Playdead also know that when it comes to world-building, atmosphere and ambience need to naturally progress as well. There’s a range of feelings to both these elements littered throughout the game, feeling natural and organic in relation to what players might think is the story being told.
However, the biggest strength of Inside is the sense of depth Playdead is able to generate within their side-scrolling 2-D world. Environments range from open, expansive spaces to closed, claustrophobic ones.
Essentially, Inside has a confident, artistically beautiful look to it.
Who Doesn’t Love Puzzles?
Inside is a game that epitomizes the thought that sometimes the solution to a puzzle is right in front of the player’s face but they are blind to it. There were definitely several times where I would stare at the puzzle in front of me for a while, until I notice the solution that could’ve been done ten minutes ago. Some of them require precision in regards to timing, or placement. Others are just wildly inventive and fun. There’s a nice mixture of all three to create a fun, at times challenging, experience. Otherwise, there are some secret items to find in game that do something, but I don’t want to give away.
The enemies players end up facing also provide enough challenge to be equally frustrating but fun. Trying to solve the ways to either stave them off or to create enough distance between the protagonist and them end up becoming adrenaline-fueling situations. No enemy felt like they had a steep learning curve to them; they all felt equally challenging and fun to take on.
Last, but not least, like Limbo, Inside’s various ways to die are darkly humorous. Some of them even had my roommate and I laughing at them. Of course, there were a few that had me wince or cringe at the sound or sight. Overall though, in a dark twisted way the deaths are a reward in and of themselves.
Can it be Played More than Once?
The biggest weakness I think of Inside (and Limbo, for that matter) is that once it’s been experienced I find it hard to want to run through it a second time. Sure, there are secrets I feel I’ve yet to uncover in Inside, and there are achievements that I’d like to go for, but ultimately I’m conflicted on whether or not I want to go through it again. That’s because the experience is so novel the first time running through it, that I worry the second one won’t have the same feeling. Normally, I’m ok with a game feeling different when doing a second playthrough, but with games that are more of an experience and less about entertainment, that becomes a tricky area to explore.
For now, I feel like I might hold off on playing Inside a second time, much like I did Limbo.
One of my top games of the year
There’s not much more that can be said about Inside except that it’s a short, but memorable experience that’s worth the time and price. For three solid hours, players will get to see a game that is a complete sum of its parts, displaying the confidence in itself to create a great game. Artistically, Inside’s handling of it’s ambience, atmosphere and art direction provides the gameplay design a nice presentation. Inside feels like an evolution from Playdead’s previous game, Limbo, leaving the only question being whether or not it’s a game that can be experienced more than once. Overall, Inside deserves to be played, even if it means playing it at a friend’s place or putting it on their console/PC. Definitely shaping to be one of my top games of 2016.