By Marty Mulrooney
Inside is a puzzle-platformer created by independent video game developer Playdead. In 2011 Alternative Magazine Online reviewed their first game Limbo, describing it as “an unforgettable, game-changing experience” and “a masterpiece.” The premise of follow-up Inside is simple: Hunted and alone, a boy finds himself drawn into the center of a dark project.
Beyond its brief, one-sentence premise, Inside is a game best experienced with as little preparation and foreknowledge as possible. This review will keep spoilers to an absolute minimum, but if you enjoyed Limbo or are a fan of side-scrolling adventures in general, feel free to skip this review entirely and go buy the game – you won’t be disappointed. Still here? Good.
Inside begins with a nameless, faceless boy sliding down a rocky incline in a dark forest. The controls are simple, with the left analogue stick (or the keyboard arrow keys) moving the boy left and right. There are only two other controls: jump and grab. It’s the same control scheme that was used in Limbo, the vast possibilities it offers impressive despite its simplicity.
As the boy runs through the forest, he is pursued by masked figures and attack dogs. The animation is exquisite, adapting on the fly to whatever events are unfolding on-screen. When enemies are nearby, the boy will hunker down and try to keep out of sight. You can’t just run and jump to win, with the game often requiring you to stop or move at the right time. Pausing briefly in the shadow of an abandoned van can make the difference between life and death.
Like Limbo before it, death plays an important role in Inside. You’ll die often (and often, gruesomely), but it seldom feels unfair. Instead it’s a learning experience, with each reload making you feel better prepared and smarter. The 2.5D presentation adds plenty of depth to each scene, with the environments stretching back far beyond the playable space. To survive you’ll need to remain constantly aware of your surroundings, whether you’re in a dark forest, an abandoned farm, or a creepy factory.
Each environment feels unique while remaining unmistakably part of the same dystopian world. The almost monochromatic visuals (you’ll be grateful the boy wears a red jumper) are utterly gorgeous, with each location feeling authentic, disturbing and real. The lighting effects are also superb throughout, going beyond mere mood setting to factor deeply into the overall gameplay experience.
Even the minimalistic music and sound effects are hauntingly perfect. You’ll never want to stop playing, even when you feel an inescapable sense of fear and dread. It’s rare to find a game world so downtrodden that remains so beautiful, even when a young boy is being torn apart by a pack of angry dogs.
Inside isn’t a case of style over substance either. The puzzles match and enhance the audio-visual experience to perfection. They all feel incredibly satisfying to solve and never seem unfair or obtuse. The impressive in-game physics make experimentation within the world a joy.
One of the best – and scariest – locations sees the boy using a small spherical submarine to explore the depths of a flooded facility. The controls never change, even when piloting a machine or even another person via a strange helmet. As a result, you’ll be able to concentrate on each and every evolving scenario without distraction. You’ll die a lot, but it will never be because you were struggling with the controls – they’re natural and responsive.
The story is ambiguous, but less so than in Limbo. To discuss it too much in this review would ruin the experience for new players but suffice to say, there is a narrative here and it’s very enjoyable to watch unfold. Inside may only be 4 hours long, but there isn’t a single minute of filler.
There is no dialogue or written text but it’s incredible what can be conveyed despite these limitations – there’s plenty to read between the lines. If you hate not having all the answers once the final credits roll Inside may frustrate, but to spell everything out would have taken a lot away from the overall experience.
In short, Inside is an incredible game created by a small independent game developer and publisher based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Limbo was and still is a masterpiece; Inside is even better. It’s Limbo 2.0, new and improved without ever feeling like a retread. The final half hour is shocking, jaw dropping and unforgettable. What it all means is open to interpretation. Whether Inside is one of the best games of 2016 isn’t.
10 OUT OF 10