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 2016’s 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. You’re 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 you’re going to have to figure out how to survive.
Death is inevitable
But you won’t survive, at least not at first. And when you do die, the added amount of detail in Inside’s 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 he’s 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 ‘18’ 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 won’t give too much away about that.
Indeed, if you know you’re going to be playing Inside, it’s worth going into it with as little information as possible. The story is ambiguous enough that you don’t want to be weighed down with other people’s theories before forming your own. It’s not exactly a “water-cooler” game, but you’ll 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 isn’t exactly hard, although it is quite unfair at some moments. I wouldn’t 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 aren’t telegraphed in the environment, but there aren’t any red herrings here. If you can interact with an object, it’ll be part of solving the puzzle, so if you can drag it somewhere, or activate it, or jump over it, you’ll probably figure it out. That’s not to say the puzzles aren’t enjoyable, but you won’t be challenged very much during the 3-4 hours of playtime Inside has in store for you.
It’s all about the journey
Instead, it’s all about the journey. You’ll progress through the forest and into a more industrial area, before going somewhere you never thought you’d end up. Once again, Playdead has absolutely nailed the art style and atmosphere, and that alone is enough to push you through to see what’s coming next. The level design is more sprawling than in the game’s predecessor, but you’ll never become lost. Plus, there are nice touches such as objects blending into the background when you’re not using them. If you drag a box somewhere but don’t want to jump onto it yet, you’re not forced to, and you can run right by it.
Inside isn’t as impressive in terms of the physics based puzzles as Limbo was six years ago, but it doesn’t 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 you’re playing it. You may turn up your nose at another game which is viewed as “art” and which doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. That’s 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.