Reviewed on Xbox One, also available on PlayStation 4, PC and upcoming on Nintendo Switch & IOS
There was that feeling again, that feeling of anxiety and dread as I walked slowly through an empty corridor. lights are gently flickering on and off in the background. The silence is deafening as my heart rate starts to elevate again. Having previously just evaded capture and certain death I was now in the safety of indoors…but something doesn’t feel right, it’s too quite, broken office equipment is everywhere “what happened here?” I ask myself. I cautiously move forward, trying to take in any audio or visual clues that could present itself as impending danger. Nothing comes and I am anxious with every step forward, literally on edge from the fear of the unknown.
What this game does is play with your emotions so brilliantly that even in its quieter sections you never quite feel safe and its bloody brilliant!
Inside is a 2.5D puzzle-platformer adventure game set in a near-future dystopic world. Developed in 2016 by Playdead games, anyone who has played the developers previous title Limbo will feel right at home. Utilizing very similar gameplay and following a very similar “film Noir” art style, Inside is essentially the spiritual successor that refines and improves upon the developers already successful formula.
Inside’s follows the travels of a mute protagonist, an unnamed boy as he searches as to what is “INSIDE”. It starts with our hero sliding down a rocky incline and into a wooded area, from here on in you are tasked with moving forever forward as you search for your goal. With no spoken or written dialogue Playdead instead use art, imagery and sound to a immerse the player in the harrowing world, so that they draw their own conclusion as to what is going on. I do not want to give away what is Inside, but needless to say by employing this style of storytelling, it will provoke thought and theories as to what you have experienced with every player maybe coming away with a slightly different take. It was only on reflection after the event that I could truly understand the brilliance that had been employed by the developers.
Gameplay see’s the player take control of the unnamed boy as he traverses a 2.5D environment by either walking, running, climbing, jumping, and swimming while solving a variety of puzzles and trying to avoid a usually quite violent death.
Incredibly simple in its inception, these actions are mapped perfectly and responsively to the controller with either the analogue or D-PAD moving the boy and 2 buttons serving as jump and interact. While this may sound limited, it is an absolute credit to the developers that they have managed to craft a gameplay experience that feels unique for the whole 4-6 hours it takes to play through the main story. Each puzzle or action sequence always has a little twist to it, forcing the player to adapt and on the fly. I died no end of times trying to deploy a similar tactic that helped me evade death previously, only to find myself ravaged by a pack of wolves or electrocuted horribly in a later sequence. My only small criticism would be the variety of enemy types and dangers, though fantastic and incredibly creepy, they didn’t seem as varied as in Limbo.
Playdead utilises the Unity engine as well as custom rendering routines to create the fantastic look and atmosphere of Inside. Being quite a dark game (both figuratively and visually) it would have been quite easy for the developer get it wrong. Especially as the colour palate is mostly greys and blacks with only the boys red shirt being one of the few times colour is employed. Thankfully this isn’t the case.
It’s really needs to be stressed how fantastic this game looks. Character models are beautifully animated and react in a believable way to their physical environment. These environments are gorgeously rendered and really do immerse the player in the dystopia of the world. Subtle flourishes can be found in almost every area. Whether it be a train in the background or a shaft of light suddenly piercing the darkness, it really is treat for the optics. The game engine is also rock solid and at no time did I notice any frame rate dips, which is absolutely essential for a game that has platforming elements.
One of the best features of Inside is the sound design. Composed by Martin Stig Anderson, who makes a welcome return from Limbo. It was said that Anderson took his inspiration from 1980’s B-horror movies. This definitely shows with sharp, chilly bursts of sound utilised to really ramp up the tension when you least expect it. There is also great use of subtle (and not so subtle) audio cues that alert the player to he surrounding environment and dangers.
There are very few games that will provoke as much thought after you walk away from the adventure. I genuinely found myself asking “what did I just experience?” as the credits rolled. Graphically the game is gorgeous and the controls snappy and intuitive. Inside is a triumph of both storytelling and game design, what it sets out to achieve as a video game it most certainly achieves. My only criticism would be that after completing the game there is no real reason to go back (unless you didn’t get all the Achievements/Trophies) and this is only a negative because I enjoyed the game so much.