Developer: PolyKnight Games
Release Date: 16/01/2018
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Linux
Sometimes it’s nice to play a game where you don’t have to worry about taking down some big nasty enemy or compete hard to get onto the top of some leaderboard. It’s nice to just enjoy yourself and take in a beautiful world, all whilst partaking in fairly simple gameplay mechanics that don’t demand too much from the player.
That’s what you get with InnerSpace – the debut title from developer PolyKnight Games that aims to offer a beautifully tranquil experience that plays in a similar vein to the likes of the critically-acclaimed Journey and ABZU. It’s all about relaxation and taking in the impressive world around you, with no fail states in place to put pressure on the player. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a challenge though, which was something I found out quickly with InnerSpace – for better and worse…
There’s actually a surprisingly deep narrative behind proceedings in InnerSpace. You’re tasked by a mysterious Archaeologist to explore some inside-out planets (because of the ‘inverse’) as you look to discover relics and find out more about the ancient worlds and their civilizations. Of course, you’re not alone as you explore these worlds, with wondrous Demigods also holding back the secrets with their mysterious powers. It’s up to you to find out what exactly these secrets are.
The bulk of InnerSpace’s gameplay is based upon exploring the world, uncovering its collectibles and solving puzzles. It’s going for that whole ‘relaxing adventure’ vibe that titles like Journey made so popular, and for the most part it works well. It’s certainly easy to get enchanted into a lull by the whole experience, with the stunning surroundings and exploration through air and sea proving to feel quite tranquil in-game. Unfortunately though, the game has a few imperfections that stop it from striving towards zen-like greatness.
One thing that you’ll notice almost immediately is that the controls are a bit fiddly – they’re not terrible, but just awkward to get used to. Movement is assigned to the two analogue sticks, with one controlling general directional movement and the other controlling thrust and allowing you to barrel roll and such.
Now these actions will naturally feel familiar to anyone who has played a game involving flight, yet in InnerSpace they feel a little clumsy at first. It’s almost as if TOO much is allocated to just the sticks, so trying to do the likes of pulling off quick manoeuvres in the air whilst slowing down your momentum can feel a little awkward. You’re also constantly moving, with nothing in place to let you come to a standstill to take in your surroundings, which could also prove pretty awkward when trying to explore. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll get used to the controls the more you play, but they just left me a little baffled at first.
At least you won’t find it awkward controlling weapons during dogfights, because InnerSpace doesn’t include combat; instead, the game is all about simply exploring the world and solving puzzles. This was something I actually appreciated and I think its presence would’ve just cheapened the game a bit – focusing more on exploration and giving the player some conundrums to figure out felt a lot more fitting within the overall vibe of the experience.
That being said, some of the puzzles can prove incredibly tricky. InnerSpace is pretty cryptic in design, and whilst it generally teaches you how to play the game, it doesn’t always talk you through how each mechanic works. It’s both a good and bad thing – there’s certainly a satisfaction to solving the game’s tricky enigmas by yourself, especially those which are on quite a large scale.
The main problem that stuck with me whilst playing InnerSpace was just how disorientating it was trying to figure out where you need to go. Some of the environments are pretty big, and whilst they’re stunning, the vivid colours and creative designs often start to feel like they merge into one. I found it a little difficult at times to pinpoint where I was in an area and with little in the way of navigation markers, it was often a case of simply scanning around through every nook and cranny as a means to work out where to go.
This in itself wouldn’t be a problem, but with the initial awkward controls and the cryptic nature of InnerSpace as a whole, it made for some frustrating moments. Of course, like the puzzling itself, it was always satisfying to discover something new or finally figure out where I needed to go, but it’s hard to forget those trivial moments of awkward exploration in-between. Oh, and when you hit a wall or get stuck around an obstacle the game resets your position on the map too, which could also prove frustrating when trying to figure out what you need to do.
Despite these issues, I still had fun with InnerSpace. It’s by no means a bad game and there’s plenty of satisfaction to be had from exploring each area and uncovering its secrets. You’ll keep learning new abilities too, which not only adds variety to the experience but actually makes it more enjoyable too. It’s just the delivery isn’t always on point, and whilst a lot of the issues I had with the game are never awful, having them all together could feel a bit too frustrating at times.
It’s clear what InnerSpace is going for with its zen-like approach to offering a relaxing yet perplexing adventure, but a lack of direction and some awkward exploration mechanics leave it falling a bit short of the mark. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic game to look at and when you start to figure out what you need to do or where exactly you need to go, it can really start to shine; it’s just that there are too many instances of frustration in-between those stand out moments to feel too blown away by it all.