Inside is a 2.5D side-scrolling, puzzle-solving, platforming game where you take on the role of a nameless (and faceless) young boy being hunted down for unknown reasons. If you’ve played Playdead’s previous title, Limbo, then you’ll know what to expect in terms of gameplay from Inside, and though in no way a sequel to Limbo it does feel very much like a continuation of what Limbo tried to do – a simple story, told not through dialogue or text but through the game’s world, through interaction rather than exposition.
Probably the game’s best feature is its visuals. The game is absolutely beautiful, and it’s nice to think that even as Playdead started adding all those extra colours to their palette they were also considering how important it is to use each of those elements carefully. From the overall atmosphere of the game, to the way each scene is crafted: a wonderfully dark, dystopian world is painted in varying shades of black and grey for the protagonist to adventure through, punctuated by the odd piece of natural light or warmth, to offer some degree of comfort from the misery.
There are some absolutely beautifully crafted scenes in the game – from the dense woodland you begin the game in, to the derelict buildings you find on the outskirts of the city, to the forgotten underwater laboratory areas you explore later on. These are just a few of the different environments in the game, but the overall point is that there’s a massive amount of attention to detail when it comes to the way each area has been designed; though the game is dark and depressing it never stops being beautiful to play.
It’s worth being clear about the fact there’s no text or dialogue story in the game at all, so much of what you gather about what’s going on in the game world is through backgrounded events. Though you do have something of a foregrounded story – you are a small boy who seems to just be trying to escape capture by any means possible, much of what is central to Inside’s story is actually told through those background elements.
In retrospect I realise much of the game simply consists of you moving from one end of the screen to the other (in the usual left to right movement), with the odd obstacle to avoid; but what’s happening in the background often informs what happens in the foreground – i.e. what obstacles you face. For example, in the initial stages of the game you find yourself moving through a forest as you watch people being taken away in trucks, the only people who remain are a series of figures in dark clothing who don’t appear at all friendly, and it quickly becomes obvious as these figures sweep the forest with torch light that you probably don’t want them to find you.
From the backgrounded elements you can tell something unpleasant is going on – people are being rounded up, seemingly from some sort of trailer park or camp, and taken away. Though you can’t actually make out any facial expressions you don’t need to to figure out they’re probably being taken away by force: the body language and the atmosphere of the scene says it all. And things like this happens throughout the game.
The initial sections of the game for example, are marked by consistent attempts by these darkened figures to catch you: torch beams cutting through the night as figures hurriedly chase after you; a van on the highway scanning for anyone who might have escaped; dogs released to hunt stragglers down, that end up chasing after you. You don’t need to literally be told what’s going on here to know what’s going on here – the imagery is all there, and as you progress further into the game, and indeed further inside the dystopian world of the game, you start to get a sense of just how messed up it is.
It’s never really spelt out to you why the game’s world is the way it is – there’s no clear explanation for the dystopia you’re thrust into; indeed it could just be a darkened future where some authoritarian regime has taken power and is forcing people into camps to be experimented on for some reason. I don’t know why exactly but my guess was some sort of alien invasion, you know like They Live Or even the V mini-series from the 80’s, where the human forces are just puppets to the aliens; but thinking back I can’t specifically think of a single thing in the game that points decisively to my guess of aliens. I guess it’s just the miss-match between the every day technology we’re used to seeing in real-life, that you see throughout the game, and the uber-tech you run into in the areas controlled by your harassers, that gave me that impression. Regardless though it doesn’t really change what you need to do: you know you need to run. It simply gives you a sense of what you might really be running from.
Back to gameplay, the puzzles for the most part I found challenging but intuitive, more so than I did with Limbo back in the day and a fair number of other puzzles games I’ve played. I’m not sure if this is the game just being well designed though or me just being less dumb now than I was then, but it certainly felt well put together and there were only maybe two or three moments in the entire game where I felt stuck – though those moments were admittedly quite a pain. Despite most of the puzzles really just being you trying to reach a switch or cross an obstacle on the screen over and over again it never really felt repetitive or unfair, the puzzles just felt right.
Oh, and one last thing I’d like to mention: The final sequence in the game is amazing, I won’t spoil it for you but it is both incredibly fucked up and a awesome climax to everything built up through 2 and a half hours of gameplay up until that point. It’s difficult knowing how to finish a game like Inside, where you just run from one side of the screen to the next for hours on end, but I think Playdead managed to pull it off in an incredibly entertaining and poignant way.
So onto the bad…
So I feel like this is a big issue with a number of the indie games I play but it’s always worth mentioning: The game is pretty short. And pretty much just a one-shot affair at that. According to my steam stats I’ve only played about 3 hours of it – which I think is just about how long it took me to complete the game. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great experience so I’m going to want to replay it at some point to get my money’s worth but it’s still a single experience. I think there is one more ending to get (so two in total,) based on you being able to find all the game’s hidden trophies; but there’s not much else, the game doesn’t have paths or multiple routes, and I think that’s a shame. I get the sense it was probably intentional, and maybe part of some artistic ambition, but for the price 3 hours of game seems a bit short to me.
Though I’ve said overall the puzzles were really well put together and felt intuitive the few puzzles that really did stump me in the game did leave me scratching my head a little, and though it’s possible it could just be me at fault here I don’t think they were as clearly signposted as they could’ve been. Minor spoiler for the game but a good example of what I mean: at one point in the game the solution to the progression puzzle you’re faced with is just to get yourself vertical – a watery substance covers the top half of the screen and as soon as you hit this layer you can move around freely in the top half of the screen, as if you’re swimming. However there’s no obvious indication of this, and there didn’t even seem to be any obvious visual clues to indicate that watery top half of the screen might help me somehow… it actually wasn’t until I started messing around and experimenting to see what I could interact with that I happened upon the solution.
Now I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, it’s actually quite old-school to expect the player to fumble around until they find the solution, it’s just at the same time I’d like to at least know in what direction I’m supposed to be trying to go, even if I have to work at figuring out how to go in that direction after I know that’s the direction I have to go in.
Admittedly after thinking about it a lot there’s really not that much I don’t like about the game, my complaints are all relatively minor. I really enjoyed my time with Inside, and though I am somewhat disappointed with the lack of replayability I really can’t recommend this enough as a great piece of storytelling. So yeah, if you’re a fan of Limbo and want something similar but with more depth – or even if you don’t know Limbo and just want a simple game that’s a lot of fun and maybe tells a really interesting story (without it being too in your face) then Inside might be just the game for you, just go in knowing it’s mostly a one-shot affair!