Inside is a horror based platforming game by Playdead Games. Their previous game, Limbo, is an excellent addition to any library, a game with a simple aesthetic and gameplay that doesn’t demand too much time to enjoy. With Inside, as before in Limbo, they’ve created a deeply unsettling platformer, starring a young boy who wanders through a steadily more unpleasant environment, solving puzzles and doing basic platforming challenges. If you’re good at something, might as well just iterate on it.
The main differences here are in the aesthetic changes, and in story. Both are vast improvements.
Make no mistake, aesthetically, this game is gorgeous. The art style has shifted from Limbo’s two dimensional blackout, to a 2.5D game, with real focus drawn to deep backgrounds and close foregrounds. In addition, camera trickery involving panning and shifting allows for the feeling of movement around a world as slight shifts and wide panning help to suggest a flow to the game levels, rather than just a constant Mario-esque run to the right.
The move away from black isn’t as dramatic as it may sound, the game hasn’t just thrown paint everywhere. Instead, this game is a delightful example of the use of light, shade and spot colours in order to build a genuine world. There’s a greyscale look on the world, with human faces, or lack of them, being picked out in white, and the player character wearing a dark red shirt to immediately pop off the screen. The animation technique on the main character goes a long way to helping this too. The character is filled with life in their animations, hiding as torch beams scan the environment, stumbling when bouncing off of rocks, even the option to push and pull objects from anywhere on the object is neat. There’s different animations depending where you interact. It’s a small detail, but a really immersive one.
I will be exceptionally sparing about the story and game progression. The puzzles are mostly well designed. The control scheme is limited to jumping, pushing/interacting and moving. From these, the game does not really expand much. I’m fine with that. Simplicity is not a bad thing. A few exceptions, throughout the game, had me banging my controller off the desk in frustration though. The problem was that the game was not clear what it wanted me to do with my limited control scheme. In the end, it was almost like an old point and click adventure game process of use jumping, moving or interact. Eliminate everything in the puzzle area until something works.
Otherwise, there were a few puzzles that required precision timing, which is fine. But, the checkpointing on those puzzles were a little harsh, constantly resetting to the start of the area.
These problems weren’t awful I was still able to progress at a reasonable rate, but it was still a touch frustrating.
The main reason that it was so frustrating is just how fascinating the narrative is. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever seen a game come to something like The X Files, or Black Mirror. Those were my reference points, yours will probably be different. To set the tone though, the game OPENS with the horrifying imagery of faceless people being herded into a van by masked figures. The story starts with nightmare fuel being pumped in and only goes on from there. And I don’t want to go further. Because the sheer act of discovering each moment is so personal and affecting, that words don’t do it justice. The best decision that Playdead made on this game is the complete lack of fixed dialogue or narration.
I know what events happened during my time playing this game. X caused Y, which then caused Z. I don’t know why they were happening though. I don’t necessarily understand who was at fault, what the motivations were for everyone. Hell, I don’t even necessarily understand my character.
But I have theories. And a lot of those are definitely going to be me reacting to tropes and my own understanding of stuff like Black Mirror.
That’s fine though, this experience is personal. It should be. Especially approaching the halfway point, and then the end of the game, the player is given events to react with that I am totally aware are going to provoke different reactions. The ambiguity of the narrative is the best feature of this game. It takes nothing away, and adds whole layers to the game, through the player’s own understanding.
Inside is mesmerising. It is a game that has to be played, or at the very least watched. You owe it to yourself to experience the story. It's only a few hours long. Perfectly paced. You can spare that for this experience.