I have a soft spot in my heart for horror games. Whenever I spent the night at my friends house as a kid we would pull out the ol' PlayStation 2, a copy of Resident Evil 4 and just go at it until the wee hours of the morning pounding back liters of multi-colored Mountain Dew in a pitch black room; taking turns playing whenever the other died, just making a time of it.
Before we knew it, RE4 became a thing of the past and we started going down the list of other games in the genre. We beat F.E.A.R 3, ran through the entire Dead Space franchise, gave Silent Hill a shot and were both thoroughly disappointed at how much of an action game Resident Evil 5 became. Granted, the co-op aspect of RE5 made up for the other areas where it lacked but my point remains that I have really fond memories of scaring myself as a kid.
Inside feels like a game that grew up with me and understands what my tastes in horror games used to be and what they are today.
Technically speaking, Inside is a puzzle platformer with a plot that contains heavy psychological horror elements. This is a style of video game Playdead should be intimate with as their previous title, Limbo, was a part of a series of releases that helped galvanize the early independent development scene back in 2010. After finishing this game not just an hour ago, it's clear to see where those six years of dev work went.
First of all, the art style has to be one of the most defining aspects Inside has to offer its players. The relatively straightforward assets mixed with incredibly tasteful use of lighting makes me feel like I'm within the most morbid and macabre Pixar movie ever made. The elegance of the models is most present when you focus on the character's universal lack of a face, which only becomes more apparent the further you progress in the story. When discussing visuals, it's rather hard to ignore its monochromatic predecessor, but a longer look reveals that Inside has much more to say.
The story is, hands down, the strongest element the game puts on display, however the story is best experienced unspoiled. I'll do my best to gloss over major details, but anyone who has a rough idea of my taste in fiction should have a good idea of what Inside is about. What won me over though, is how the story is conveyed with absolutely no use of dialogue.
Inside is the video game approximation to a silent film and, as an aspiring game writer myself, it absolutely nails how to tell a self-contained plot without having to sacrifice an ounce of the players attention. While the story is the definite highlight of Inside, the soundtrack only strengthens it.
While adaptive soundtracks are nothing new and the majority of the actual songs are just ambient soundscapes, their use of heartbeats and breathing is the decaying cherry on top of a Tim Burton-esque, vaguely psychedelic, sundae. The boy's breathing intensifies as super polished animations make him look back to discover dogs are chasing him to his doom.
His heartbeat slowly ratchets itself up to a thousand as you just barely miss a jump that sends you plummeting to your death. In signature Playdead fashion, the camera lingers just longer than you'd expect it to on every fail state in order to make you, the player, almost feel dirty for watching it.
For as much as this game does right, I do feel the need to say that the puzzles themselves are a bit thin from a qualitative standpoint. Albeit when comparing this game to similar indie titles out there like Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, or even Nihilumbra, the puzzles are really clever.
Yet when compared to the likes of Braid or Fez the puzzles can wear a bit thin. That being said, Inside falls very heavily into the "games as art" argument and if you agree with that statement even a little bit, you'll get your money's worth out of it.
If you couldn't tell already, the 3 ~ 4 hours I spent with Inside were memorable and will no doubt be on more than a few year end lists across the industry, when that time comes.
If you enjoyed this review, please check out my personal blog where this was originally posted along with many more over at spencerbaughman.wordpress.com. Cheers!