When it comes to indie developers, Playdead is no stranger. The studio released its first game, Limbo, as an Xbox Live exclusive back in 2010. The game surprised everyone because of its artistic representation of a boy trapped in the middle of a forest, while also using that to an advantage to create a game that involves both platforming and puzzle-solving. The visuals and art style were the highlight of the studio’s first game, and INSIDE appears to retread the same winning formula.
On a fundamental level, Inside is built on the same gameplay design brought forth by Limbo. It even shares visual similarities with the latter with its monochromatic color palette. Though, unlike Limbo, Inside does make sparing use of color, and its visuals showcase a grim and dark atmosphere of an apocalyptic world. The game uses lighting in exceptionally intelligent ways in order to highlight some of its key sequences and, despite being overly dark at times, the art style still manages to shine.
The game gives you control right from the title screen. There is no introduction, tutorial, or fancy cutscene to explain the story. Instead, the player is free to piece together their own story based on their experience, and judging from the theories that have been circulating on the internet, everyone has their own interpretation of the events that go down in the game. It’s not that Inside is hard to understand. Rather, it just raises a lot of interesting and thought provoking questions that will keep it in discussion post-completion.
Starting right from the beginning, we assume control of what appears to be a young boy who is apparently running away from someone. The first question that comes to mind is whether this is a game about a kidnapped boy who is on the run, and if so, who is in his pursuit and what do they want from him? This is precisely what happens in the first few minutes of the game, where the boy is being chased by a group of men along with fierce dogs. Judging from the way they try to catch him, it is clear that they have no interest in keeping him alive.
The thing that stands out most while playing Inside is the quality of its animations. It hard to think of a 2.5D platformer that can match Playdead’s latest platformer in this department. The developer has fine-tuned it in such a way that it seems very life-like and not something that is overly stated. The animations aren’t just there for the show, however, as Inside is also a responsive and intuitive platformer. You’ll find yourself performing a variety of tasks, ranging from pulling switches to pushing around objects in order to solve puzzles. It is all a seamless experience and only serves to highlight the amount of work that has gone into making the game.
Inside has a very simplistic control scheme. We can jump, grab to push and pull objects, or perform actions like pressing a button. It is controlled by a simple button press for actions and another for jump. Despite having a simple control scheme, the game is designed in such a way that it requires the player to utilize these controls to the best of their ability. Some of the puzzles will require precise timing in order to make progress through the game.
The puzzle design in Inside is absolutely brilliant and requires the player to think out of the box. If you have played Limbo, you may remember the brain-controlling parasite that used to dig its way into the head of the boy. Playdead appears to utilize a similar mechanic for some of Inside’s puzzles, requiring you to assume control of some brain-dead humans via an electronic head mount-like contraption. These humans appear to be test subjects who have undergone experiments.
As far as length is concerned, Inside is a little towards the short side. It can take as much as 6-7 hours to complete. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on how long to spend on each of the game’s puzzles. There is some replay here, however. The game is littered with plenty of secrets. They come in the form of little activation devices that are scattered and hidden throughout each of the levels. Discovering all of them will result in a secret ending, which offers insight into the game’s regular ending.
Inside’s greatest strength lies in its puzzle design and its ability to draw you in through its unique visual finesse. Even if you aren’t into 2D platformers, it’s a game worth playing just for the unconventional and thought-provoking experience that it has to offer.
Inside is developed and published by Playdead. The game is available for the Xbox One and PC. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
Inside is, in many ways, a spiritual successor to Limbo. It reiterates on the formula and design established by Limbo and polishes it to perfection. The game is full of thought provoking puzzles and a narrative structure that requires you to think, while also highlighting the negative side of the human society.