by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
On the shoulders of giants
When it came out in 2010, Limbo became a masterpiece of game design. From its art and sound design, to its sense of atmosphere, to its puzzling gameplay mechanics, and to its ability to tell a story with no words, Limbo was a genre defining moment. Six years later, development studio Playdead is back with Inside, and it has proved Limbo was not a fluke. Inside takes what made Limbo great and runs with it even further, and has added yet another great game to 2016ís ever-growing list.
Much in the same way to its predecessor, Inside is dark and mostly monochrome, although there are splashes of colour here and there, most notably the red top the protagonist wears. Again, you play as a young boy, puzzle-platforming his way through dangerous environments, although here, the dangers are not part of the forest itself as in Limbo, but rather the people chasing you. Youíre not really given any sense of why you are where you are, why these people are looking for you, or where you are even going, you just know that youíre going to have to figure out how to survive.
Death is inevitable
But you wonít survive, at least not at first. And when you do die, the added amount of detail in Insideís character and the extra death animations will leave you shocked, every time it happens. A game has never left my mouth open, aghast, so many times. Whether heís being ripped apart by dogs or violently smothered by a shadowy man, these deaths are brutal, and you can see how the game got its Ď18í rating. These moments of horror are not to mention the last section of the game, where the animation and sound effects are exquisitely disgusting, but I wonít give too much away about that.
Indeed, if you know youíre going to be playing Inside, itís worth going into it with as little information as possible. The story is ambiguous enough that you donít want to be weighed down with other peopleís theories before forming your own. Itís not exactly a ďwater-coolerĒ game, but youíll certainly be discussing what you think it all means with your friends, as well as recounting some of the best moments. Perhaps the story is too ambiguous though, as certain moments and the ending in particular will leave you with more questions than answers.
Inside isnít exactly hard, although it is quite unfair at some moments. I wouldnít go as far as saying some of the puzzles are trial and error, but a handful are designed to have you fail so you can figure out how to actually get past them. Puzzle solutions arenít telegraphed in the environment, but there arenít any red herrings here. If you can interact with an object, itíll be part of solving the puzzle, so if you can drag it somewhere, or activate it, or jump over it, youíll probably figure it out. Thatís not to say the puzzles arenít enjoyable, but you wonít be challenged very much during the 3-4 hours of playtime Inside has in store for you.
Itís all about the journey
Instead, itís all about the journey. Youíll progress through the forest and into a more industrial area, before going somewhere you never thought youíd end up. Once again, Playdead has absolutely nailed the art style and atmosphere, and that alone is enough to push you through to see whatís coming next. The level design is more sprawling than in the gameís predecessor, but youíll never become lost. Plus, there are nice touches such as objects blending into the background when youíre not using them. If you drag a box somewhere but donít want to jump onto it yet, youíre not forced to, and you can run right by it.
Inside isnít as impressive in terms of the physics based puzzles as Limbo was six years ago, but it doesnít make them any less enjoyable now. Inside has improved on the genre in other ways, in animation, in subtle yet noticeable level and puzzle design, in the way the game makes you feel while youíre playing it. You may turn up your nose at another game which is viewed as ďartĒ and which doesnít tell you everything you need to know. Thatís fine, but just know you are missing out on yet another wonderful game.
Beautiful art design, great yet simple puzzle and level design.
Highly ambiguous story, some moments are designed for you to fail.