PC version reviewed. Copy provided by publisher.
Inside is the new critical hit by Playdead. Limbo, Playdead’s previous and first game, was a dark and foreboding tale about a boy surviving in a bleak world full of dangers. Much like Limbo, Inside is a dark and foreboding tale about a boy surviving in a bleak world full of dangers. It’s always a good thing to stick to what you know, and Playdead certainly have done that. It also helps that they’re great at what they know.
There’s just one thing: I don’t get it.
Inside starts as minimalistic as you can get. You’re in a forest. The game’s name pops up, fades away as a young boy drops down to the right of the screen. There’s zero interface. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know who you are. You don’t even know how to control the game. This is possibly one of the most interesting introductions a game has ever had. There’s no need for a tutorial or introductory sequence because the game has just three things for you to think about: move, jump and interact.
With these tools at your disposal, you have to survive a cruel, malicious world. One that wants nothing more than to see a small boy be killed in so many ways that it’s disturbing in ways that I don’t think it intended to be. Will you be choked or shot by one of the, I assume, soldiers that are found throughout. How about having your throat torn out by either a trained or feral dog. Don’t worry, there’s enough of you to go around for a pack of dogs. You can drown, get crushed or, highly likely, fall to your death.
If that last paragraph didn’t indicate it well enough, you’re going to die. I would argue that this will have a lower death count than Limbo, but at the same time Limbo’s deaths didn’t seem as unfair. Inside features a few too many moments where the only way to find your way through is by dying. One early moment, for example, has you push a safe off of a wooden overhang. The wood collapses instantly leaving you to fall. To survive you need to run and jump to the ledge – this is logical – but there was no real way to know without dying first.
This is as far as I’ll go with directly revealing any specific puzzles or core story elements of Inside. What I will say is that what puzzles the game does have rely an awful lot on precise timing, some trial and error and the use of light. There’s a decent selection of puzzles to encounter, with some repetition, but nothing that should ever leave you struggling. For the most part, they’re actually quite simple.
There isn’t a great deal that can be said about the story without spoiling it. What I will say is that, as it was with Limbo, left for you to figure out alone. I mean alone. There isn’t a single spoken word throughout the whole game, leaving only visual cues to guide you towards the end. That and the simple fact that you’ll be moving right. If you’re moving up, down or left, it’s just to get something that lets you move further to the right.
As you move further to the right the game lets you encounter a multitude of unsettling themes. Survival, authoritarianism, free will, imprisonment and more. The problem is, the game never seems to want to tackle them, even in its own indirect way.
I would honestly be surprised if there is actually an overarching story to the whole game. Mostly because the ending comes out of the blue, seeming like something you’d find from a completely different game. It features some of the most impressive sequences of the whole game, but that can never make up for the fact that the ending outright demolishes the atmosphere and pacing that the game had set. If I could, I’d outright forget the real ending and opt to only remember the secret, hidden, ending found by getting all of the collectables. That was witty and more in-line with the rest of the game.
There’s no doubt that Inside is a visually striking and stunning game. Although gray and brown are the colors of choice, with any other color being muted to a depressing level, this is a perfect design choice. Where your big releases that rely too much on gray, brown and little else get panned, Inside does it to set a specific tone and not a shallow attempt at realism.
The little details are what makes inside one of the most perfect examples of great visual design. Particular is the use of shadows, which combined with the muted colors, means that any lights stand out in a striking fashion. More so when those lights are aimed at you.
In the same vein as the visuals, the audio is strikingly limited. I previously mentioned that there are no spoken words at all. Following on from this, there’s actually very little that you’ll hear. Music is used sparingly, only when needed and to great effect. What sounds you do hear are those of the world. The sound of footsteps. The bone-chilling sound of a dog’s bark, snarl and it running for you. Machinery and the slam of a door as it falls behind you. Even the sound of your own panting as you stop to catch your breath.
What i’ve found most important for setting the mood is the weather. Nothing sets the mood of levels more than the sound of the rain, or the chilling gusts of wind. Possibly the most unnerving aspect was utter silence, where there was literally no sound at all.
Inside is strange to say the least. It’s shallow and as much as the story, in my interpretation, brings up serious questions, there’s no answer. This shallow feel is also inherent when playing the game. It’s a short game that somehow manages to feel padded in particular parts. The biggest cause of this is a submarine section, which has the player repeating too much of the same thing and never really amounting to anything.
Is it a good game? Certainly. It’s mechanically tight, albeit somewhat shallow. Possibly one of the most atmospheric games you’ll ever find, with masterful use of light, shadows and color. The problem is that the ending is one that I’ll only remember for how downright terrible it is. It seems completely juxtaposed to the rest of the game. I can’t, and won’t, tell you what happens, but needless to say I was left just looking at the game thinking “What the hell?” – and not in a good way.
I’ve got to end this review how I started. I just don’t get it. I genuinely don’t understand the overwhelming praise that Inside has got, with a number of maximum scores that would make any team wet themselves in joy. Now i’ve finished writing my review, it’s time to read some others and just maybe understand what others see that I don’t.
Inside has a foreboding atmosphere that's second to none, set by the masterful use of lighting, shadows, colors and sound. Although padded at parts (even for a four hour game), it's still able to keep you gripped. The puzzles are somewhat basic for the most part and the ending of the game is one of the worst I've ever encountered, simply not fitting in with the rest of it.
- Inside has a masterful use of lighting, colour and sound. It sets one of the most forboding atmospheres you're ever likely to find in a game, and the story is incredibly strong until the last section of the game.
- Inside finds itself meandering and wasting your time during the middle of the game, particularly a section on a submarine. It also features a few too many unreasonable deaths and some of the puzzles can be a little too shallow. Compounding everything is that the ending of the game is just terrible.