Independent developer Playdead created a haunting, bleak and often horrifying adventure game back in 2010 named Limbo that sent shockwaves through the gaming industry. Limbo was one of the strongest indie titles released that year and found itself on many game of the year lists. Following up Limbo would be a tough job and it took Playdead six years in order to do so. How did Playdead decide to follow up their popular indie title? By crafting a similar game that is essentially a spiritual successor to Limbo, but ends up being so much more. Inside is now here and it not only surpasses Limbo in quality and uniqueness, but it’s also one of the best games I have played this year.
Like Limbo, Inside asks the player to take control of a young boy who’s dropped into the middle of the woods with no tutorial or narrative given. All we know from the start is that we need to push forward and figure out what’s going on. It doesn’t take long for the player to realize that this boy is running from something, or someone, and that we need to lay low and avoid getting caught by a group of people who want to stop us from reaching an unknown destination. Since no story is given to us from the start, the entire game is spent trying to unravel the secrets of what’s happening in this world and what this boy’s overall goal or purpose is.
The game is a side scroller that uses only two buttons; a jump and an interact command. As the player progresses through the game, a series of physics and platforming puzzles are presented here that are normally solved by experimenting within the environment or paying attention to visual cues. Most puzzles consist of finding a way to progress forward by using switches, pushing boxes or swinging off of objects. While this sounds like a typical puzzle platformer that we’ve seen many times, the innovation comes in the form of the situations the game throws at the player. I may be pushing boxes and flipping switches, but I’m doing so in some amazingly clever situations that are artistically pleasing and memorable.
Graphically, the game is similar to Limbo. The art style is bleak, dark and brooding; however, unlike Limbo, which was entirely black and white, Inside actually includes subtle touches of color to add some contrast to the images. The art design really shines in Inside by creating a series of haunting environments that do an excellent job at making the player feel uneasy. The unnamed boy will trek through dark cornfields, spooky forests and even navigate through underwater laboratories using a small submarine-like vessel. These settings seem like typical video game environments, but mixed with the small set pieces stitched throughout along with the player being completely unaware of anything that’s going on around them, it sets a stronger tone where anything can be possible.
Inside’s gameplay is simple, but the puzzle design is where the gameplay shines. The game’s puzzles aren’t super complex, and if you’ve already played games similar to this you’ll probably feel totally smart, but they’re designed well enough where the player won’t be stuck for too long which promotes more progress and less roadblocks. Objects are hidden throughout the game that can be collected for achievement points. Most of these collectibles are VERY well hidden, yet seeking them out helps extend the life of the title a bit and adds to the overall world building. Inside also has a secret ending buried deep within the game, which uncovering it makes the ending of Inside even more interesting.
Playdead created a puzzle platformer that’s similar to a lot of other games in this genre, but what makes Inside so special is the experience that I received from it. Each scenario within the game had me thinking and contemplating on what horrifying things may be happening in this world. The game can be sometimes frightening, very strange and surreal, and many times heart-pounding. Chase sequences will keep you on-edge, creepy imagery will allow your mind to wander into some weird territory and the game NEVER stops making you say to yourself “what the hell is going on here?!” I don’t want to go into too much detail as to what some of these situations are since I feel going into it blind will greatly enhance the experience.
By the time the credits roll, Inside will bury itself deep into your brain and refuse to leave for weeks. The ending is by far one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve ever witnessed in a video game and it had me squirming, confused and compelled at the same time. Not to mention the game is full of visual hints and revelations that help strengthen the ending if you’re able to catch them. Even as the game came to a close, I still wasn’t certain what was going on in this world yet I had many theories running through my head. Instantly, ran to the internet and read other players’ takes on the story and found myself fascinated at the possibilities of what the creators were trying to tell us. As a result, Inside became easily the most memorable and fascinating titles of 2016 so far with one of the most ambiguous endings since Bioshock Infinite.
Inside is easily a ‘game of the year’ contender for me. The gameplay is nothing new, but the world presented to me and the ghastly situations that were laid out before me had my hands glued to the controller until the credits rolled. Overall it took me about five hours to finish at 100% with every achievement point unlocked, but the game packs so much into its duration while keeping the pacing very tight and steady that I didn’t mind the short length. Playdead has delivered a compelling, addictive and unorthodox adventure game that will stay with you long after it’s finished. Everyone should play this game.
Inside is available on Xbox One, PC and now on Playstation 4. The game is priced at $19.99 and is available digitally only. This review was written based off of the Xbox One version.