The indie exploration game is a genre that has exploded in the past couple of years. Games have run the gamut from journeys towards perilous mountains to underwater fairytales. We have yet to see one about an AI-powered airplane trying to find out what its world means. InnerSpace has an intriguing mystery fueled by this premise, but doesn’t quite stick the landing.
Your character (a plane) is The Cartographer; your mission is to chart new worlds of the Inverse for your creator, The Archaeologist (a submarine). It sounds like a goofy premise, and maybe it is, but it’s surprising how intriguing the story becomes. There’s actually a good amount of dialogue in the game, enough for you to really be charmed. Your little submarine buddy somehow makes you care enough to help him out.
The adventure has you investigating a precursor race, and their interactions with a power called Wind. It ties into their still wandering demigods, and actually has a lot more to say than most games in this subgenre. It’s refreshing for one these exploration-focused games to be more direct with its storytelling.
You do this investigation by piloting yourself around some pretty sizable environments. Have no fear of the aerial controls, however! Unlike a lot of games with arcade-style flight controls, moving around in InnerSpace is almost sublime. I had an absolute blast flying around to my heart’s content. Taking a nosedive only to pull up at the last minute, turning on my side to thread the needle into a tight canyon, and other maneuvers are pulled off without a hitch. Your character can also transform into a submarine, and these sections are good as well. The pace is a bit slower in the water, but it still controls nicely. Unfortunately, there just aren’t any neat tricks to pull off underwater.
The majority of the game has you solving puzzles to summon a world’s demigod. Puzzle is a term used loosely here. Nothing is ever tricky to figure out, and mostly boils down to finding out where to go. You’ll invariably just need to hit something with your wings to make something else happen. The only difficulty comes from the game’s lack of direction. It’s both a positive and a negative. It leads to a sense that you’re making discoveries, but too often it would actually frustrate. The worlds are so big that finding the one tiny switch to hit can be maddening. Of course you’ll find the way eventually, but being lost for 15 minutes is never fun.
While you’re scouring for the way forward in InnerSpace, there are plenty of collectibles to find. Both Wind and relics are scattered throughout every world. They each help with the game’s small upgrade paths. There’s new airframes for The Cartographer, as well as upgrades for speed and control. The airframes do control differently enough to give you a couple options, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to abandon the excellent Piano Frame unlocked near the game’s start. The upgrades are nothing substantial overall, but finding relics is nice for fleshing out the world. Each tells a brief story of how life must have been for civilizations that came before.
As you progress through the game, you’ll come to an unfortunate realization. You will do the same things in worlds that look the same. The worlds look remarkably similar, to the point where it all starts to feel repetitive by game’s end. Summoning the demigods feels like busywork the third time you’re made to do such similar things. Each demigod results in a brief showdown almost akin to a boss battle, but it’s always immediately apparent how to defeat them. So after the second world or so, it all starts to feel like running down a checklist.
Still, by the end of my time with InnerSpace, I was happy to have taken the journey. The characters and mysteries PolyKnight Games set up are interesting, and the payoff is worth it. Getting there can be a slog, but in the end the game has enough interesting things to say that you’ll want to see it through. And if nothing else, piloting yourself around is a whole lot of fun.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One using retail code provided by the publisher, Aspyr Media.