Back in 2010, Playdead released a little monochrome platformer called LIMBO that went on to become one of the most successful indie games of all time. Since then, it has been ported to almost every platform imaginable and was reported to have sold more than 3 million copies as of 2013. If you haven’t played it, LIMBO is a compelling 2D puzzle-platformer where you take on the role of a young boy trying to escape a nightmarish world full of dangerous creatures and surroundings. While it’s true that Playdead could have followed up with almost anything given their success, they instead decided to evolve the concept of LIMBO into even darker realms with their new game, INSIDE.
INSIDE, in my opinion, is more murky, mysterious, and disturbing than its predecessor, and that’s an achievement in itself. The game opens with a small faceless boy trying to make an escape from some patrol guards and dogs that have been assigned to capture him. There is no prologue or reason given as to why you are running away; instead, that’s left open for interpretation and for you to discover. As you progress, the boy continues to land himself in dangerous situations, and while the game is linear, you’ll find yourself travelling from left to right as you solve puzzles and acquire the help of others to further yourself onto the next logical path in your journey.
Throughout the game, the boy will venture into a plethora of engaging environments, all varying and unique in stage design. From the open forest and into the corn fields, each area is littered with fantastic detail that breathes life into the dark surroundings. I would often just let the boy stand there and take in the view; it’s such an unpredictable and beautifully creepy game that I didn’t want to miss a thing. Moving onward from the spooky outskirts, you do eventually wander into warehouses, old buildings and labs, but you don’t quite understand what’s going on. All you know is survival is the primary objective, and this forces you to open your eyes to every element on the screen.
The gameplay is straightforward and limits you to a few buttons, but that’s all the tools you’ll need in this moody 2D Puzzle-platformer. Similar to LIMBO, you have the ability to move, jump, and interact with items, but there are also little highlights to spark your curiosity or point you in the right direction. The puzzles are neither mind-bending nor frustrating but give you enough of a challenge to solve them at a satisfying stride. I found that no two puzzles were the same, thus, overall, the game had a good depth of variety. As an example, some tasks require you to move boxed objects to get to higher areas while others see odd platforms like air-ballooned cubes used as a lift. A standout feature to me was the mind-control helmet, where you control any number of mindless humans to solve a task. I found these particular sections ingenious as it added another mechanic that is simple to operate but a challenge to master. There are also many other odd objects to find during puzzle-solving, but they’re best left for the player to discover.
In a game such as INSIDE, death occurs very often, so it’s often a case of what you shouldn’t do in order to keep the faceless boy alive. There are so many ways to die, and it never fails to be both shocking and unnerving to watch. Seeing him get tasered and dragged away by an electronic security post is probably the most chilling thing to witness, so venture with caution when you see those. It might take a few tries to figure out how to get the boy safely into the next area, but it never gets annoying or tiresome. In some intelligent way, it encourages you to push on and dissect what’s happening on-screen to solve the problem. In no way does the game dumb things down or try to outsmart you, it’s all there for you to uncover with no instructions or direction. There are also underwater sequences that I don’t want to spoil, but I will say that they’re equally puzzling and are a great addition to an already fascinating adventure.
I also can’t express how much I loved the bleak and minimalistic art style. Every frame has been crafted with care, with no two objects or scenery looking the same. It’s evident that Playdead put an enormous amount of attention into every facet of the experience. Particle and lighting effects appear natural and even come into play with some of the puzzle-solving. What also impressed me was the physics at work; it looks wonderfully organic, from each step the boy takes to all the living beings inhabiting this dreary world. There is a great sense of weight and feeling with every bit of animation that it gives every character stark realism. When the boy cautiously tiptoes over a log or is frantically running away from dogs while looking over his shoulder, not a single detail is missed, and it truly brings this world to life.
INSIDE is a stunning masterpiece to behold and uncover, and is, without a doubt, an experience that should not be missed. Playdead Studios has once again taken a simple formula and excelled to extraordinary new heights when it comes to delivering striking environments and cleverly crafted gameplay. It’s a remarkable game that is consistently engrossing and never falters in pulling you into its bleak concrete world. Once it has you, it never lets go. Simply put, INSIDE is unlike any other game you’ll play this year; it strives to be different and unique with magnificent artistry. While it is quite brief and may leave you wanting more, I make no reservations in recommending it to absolutely everyone.