INSIDE Review – Haunting Puzzle Platforming and Eerie Humour
Inside is a puzzle-platformer adventure video game developed and published by independent studio Playdead. Though this game is intended to be dark and bleak, you may want to turn up the brightness just a little.
Mode: Single-player video game
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Genres: Platform game, Adventure game
Initial release date: June 29, 2016
Price: US $19.99 Steam,
Non-Fiction Gaming has been provided a PC copy of Inside for this review.
Like Limbo…. but more
Remember the game that starts with a little boy in a creepy woodland area made of light and shadow? Limbo? Yeah that’s the one, oh Playdead made that too…
You’re a young boy on the run from some kind of shadowy organisation. Nothing is explicitly explained as you go along and Playdead do a great job of creating subtleties for you to infer the story.
Inside continues the simple control scheme of Movement buttons, Jump, and Interact. This may be familiar territory from you Limbo players however, Inside offers more colour in the environment to catch your attention and guide your actions to secrets or solutions.
Inside sets a tone
The environments are still pretty bleak, from the rain-soaked countryside to the crumbling corporate interiors, but not quite monochromatic like its predecessor.
Among the grey there are splashes of red, on the boy’s jumper and on handholds that might otherwise be missed, yellow on chirping chicks in a farm populated by pig corpses and on cables that lead to secrets, and the sickening colour of flesh.
The world is still dark and dangerous, but the threats encountered are more mundane this time around. There are no giant spiders of shadow blending with the darkness to impale you. Instead, Inside has human threats; masked workers who hunt with flashlights and guns, unleashing hunting dogs to chase the boy down and rip him apart.
Intuitive yet no hand holding
As with any good puzzle platformer, the first few minutes of Inside use level design to encourage experimentation with the controls. There isn’t any pop-up text or tutorial.
Unable to continue left teaches you to advance by moving right (in case you’ve never played Mario or Megaman I suppose). A fallen tree impedes your path so let’s find that jump button. A fridge near a wall lets you discover how to push and pull objects to overcome barriers. Forced to jump into a body of water to escape from a pack of dogs is how you learn you can swim.
The next 10 minutes or so teach you about subtle signals the game will send when a threat is imminent. Sometimes the boy needs to hide until the torchlight passes by, other times you’re able to press on and it becomes a race to the next hiding spot with your pursuers gaining ground.
The precise animation and sound design add layers to what on the surface is a simplistic concept. Masked enemies and the boy himself have no facial features yet body language and heavy breathing sounds endear you to the character’s struggles.
Expect to die… a lot.
While this interrupts the flow of advancement, the repeated deaths have a charm of their own. Often brutal with animations that last an uncomfortable amount of time you watch the boy savaged by dogs or fall under a hail of darts.
The re-spawning is quick and checkpoints are liberal so you shouldn’t get too frustrated. Especially as sometimes the only way to know how an object reacts is to accidentally run into its ‘kill-zone’.
Simple controls create amazing opportunity
Inside is a two-button game – aside from moving left or right, all the boy can do is jump (A on the Xbox One controller) and grab (X or B). I used an Xbox controller with the PC version of this game and it worked brilliantly. With the Play
From these simple building blocks it would be easy to think the puzzles would get stale. Inside has a relatively intuitive puzzle every few seconds with good use of camera direction and colour to indicate objects to pay attention to in the foreground or background.
That basic grab mechanic is used at various points to drag a pig across the floor, operate a lever, lift a sliding door, pry planks from a wall and yank a generator to life.
While most puzzles give you plenty of time to look around and experiment, there are still a few puzzles that rely on timing. These can get frustrating as you don’t get time to analyse the situation at your leisure. The upside of this is the tension ramps up and you’ll be looking around for things to jump on to or objects to interact with frantic abandon.
As the locations change, each new puzzle and scenario feels different. Despite the repetition of Jumping and Interacting being the core mechanic, Inside keeps things fresh by adding new elements and ways of thinking to solve puzzles.
A short experience packed with nuance
The game isn’t particularly long, with most play throughs clocking in around 2-4 hours. Inside is certainly more about the journey itself than the destination.
Completionists will want to go back through and find all the secret little holes and areas hidden by Playdead Studios. (Keep an eye out for yellow cables) Don’t expect an explanation for things to make sense.
This game will not hold your hand in any way and it’s better for it. The more interesting interactions are those best left for the player to discover for themselves. Inside is constantly surprising, introducing new elements without ever overwhelming, maintaining an excellent pace over the course of about a few hours.
Final Verdict – Inside 4.5/5
An excellent game that had me hooked by its tight controls and unique aesthetic. Inside is the kind of game that hooks you within the first minutes with a ‘Show Don’t Tell’ style of storytelling.
The humour is dark yet I found myself laughing at the absurdity of many situations I was thrown in. This game feels like an evolution from Limbo. At its core is a solid set of mechanics and enough puzzles to keep you occupied. Layered on top are exquisite sound and art to create a particular theme.
If you’re the kind of player that needs certainty in your story or explanations for events, you may get frustrated with what Inside has to offer. I don’t want to give anything away so if you’re already a fan of Limbo then Inside is worth a few hours of your time.