“Hunted and alone, a boy finds himself drawn into the center of a dark project.”
– The INSIDE Steam page (http://store.steampowered.com/app/304430/)
It’s not often that I come across a game that’s necessarily difficult to review, yet I find myself in quite a predicament with INSIDE. It’s the sort of game that I feel I absolutely NEED to talk about, yet unless you’ve played the game already I don’t want you to listen. Ridiculous, right? Whilst I’m going to refrain from sharing spoilers (or much detail at all) in this review, I’ll warn you now – if you haven’t played INSIDE already, just stop reading and go play the game instead.
INSIDE is the second game from Danish game developers Playdead, creators of the critically acclaimed puzzle-platformer LIMBO. Much like LIMBO, INSIDE casts you as a young boy who is caught up in a brutal world under mysterious circumstances. Also, like LIMBO, this world can see the boy meet some awful, grizzly ends too, with danger seemingly coming from every possible direction.
It’d be easy to consider INSIDE as a sequel to LIMBO, least of all because of the fact that the actual premise of each game feel incredibly similar – both games play almost identically too. You’ll venture across a 2D landscape that sees you platforming, solving puzzles and, most importantly, trying to make sense of what the hell is going on around you.
Out of all the similarities it shares with LIMBO, it’s fortunate that it didn’t neglect the most important one of all – they’re both absolutely fantastic games.
INSIDE takes an incredibly minimalistic approach in almost all facets of its design. There’s absolutely no narrative, there are no tutorials to introduce you to the game, whilst the controls themselves are simple too. You can literally pick up the controller and you’ll instantly feel at home with the game, the only real important actions that can be performed simply mapped to two buttons.
This simple approach works well in-game, with the controls feeling fluid and working perfectly. You never feel like you’re out of control at any moment, whilst each precise jump you make or intense chase scene is easily played out and ultimately determined by your own ability to press a simple button at the right time.
The simplistic approach actually carries over to the game’s puzzles too, even though the simple nature of each enigma can be incredibly deceiving. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing in INSIDE that feels incredibly taxing, yet the intricate and clever design of each puzzle kept everything feeling fresh and challenging.
Each puzzle managed to feel natural and I more often than not knew exactly what I needed to do, even if the answer wasn’t necessarily right in front of me. I don’t know if this is due to my past experience with puzzle games, or maybe that I’m just a genius – I’m sure it’s not the latter though. Either way, it didn’t make the game easy by any stretch of the imagination. It was an odd feeling – even though I typically always knew WHAT I needed to do, I think that it’s owed to ingenious game design as opposed to the game itself being easy. I feel like the developers intended it to be this way, and besides, whilst it’s all well and good knowing the solution to a puzzle, sometimes the most difficult part is putting that solution into motion.
As for INSIDE’s story, you’re not going to learn a whole lot about the game besides from your own interpretation of the events that unfold around you. Whilst I’ll spare the details, these events themselves are fairly harrowing – the world of INSIDE isn’t a pleasant one, yet I couldn’t help but to feel a morbid fascination with finding out what the game was going to show me next. INSIDE doesn’t paint a pretty picture for humanity and whilst it’ll fool you into thinking things can’t get worst, you never know what might be waiting for you through the next doorway…
It’s only within the game’s almost non-existent narrative that I felt some form of disappointment. Whilst INSIDE does a great job of building tension, mystery and intrigue, the ending itself left a lot to be desired. I’m sure it’ll be polarising, especially given that the game tasks you with interpreting the story yourself, yet my interpretation of the ending only left me with more questions. I knew from the beginning that there’d be no definitive conclusion to the tale, yet the lack of any expectation failed to mask my overall disappointment.
However, those who uncover each of the game’s hidden secrets will be able to witness INSIDE’s ‘hidden’ ending, offering a conclusion to the game that ultimately feels all the more satisfying. I’ve already mentioned that I won’t be revealing too many details here, and in honesty I already feel a little guilty about revealing the existence of the hidden ending, yet I think it’s something certainly worth witnessing – especially if you too were a little disappointed by the game’s traditional ending.
INSIDE is a dark, disturbing game, though these themes will mesmerise you as much as they haunt you. No effort is spared for the grotesque either, something evident by the various deaths you’ll suffer throughout the game. Despite it all though, I never felt like INSIDE was intentionally trying to shock you with each death – instead, each circumstance of it felt like a necessary evil in a world that was already plagued by evil. I will say though that I was pleasantly surprised by the game’s early sparing of the lives of a group of little chicks that could’ve easily been mutilated for the sake of a puzzle, though I suppose it was evidence enough that the world Playdead had created already provided enough ‘shock-factor’ that it didn’t need to try intentionally shocking the player for the sake of it.
INSIDE has a distinct aesthetic style that features dark, torrid tones that manage to feel unsettlingly macabre, all whilst looking undoubtedly beautiful at the same time. It’s impressive how the game manages to look so impeccable and picturesque, whilst the nature of it constantly reminds you that the allure it gives off is certainly an evil one. I won’t tell you where you’ll be venturing through during the game, but there’s never a location treaded that won’t impress you. Actually, I can’t resist mentioning the cornfield – you visit it early enough in-game that it’s not a spoiler, so I feel safe to mention how it manages to feel incredibly haunting but also peaceful at the same time. It also homes a pretty big surprise if you look hard enough, though I didn’t tell you that…
Your experience with INSIDE will be relatively short, with my initial playthrough lasting around four hours. There’s plenty of incentive to return to the game though, not only to try and find all of the secrets but to also be amazed by the whole damn thing all over again.
As impressed as I was with INSIDE, I just can’t help feeling like I don’t want to talk about it. Not because there’s nothing to say, because believe me, there’s a hell of a lot that I really want to say about INSIDE – all of it good too. It would just be an injustice to the game, the developers, and to you – the player – if I were to reveal any detail about the game without letting you witness it all yourself first.
The world, the gameplay, the story; in fact, every aspect of the game. I want to tell you about how great it is, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you one thing: do yourself a favour and buy INSIDE – it’s one of the finest games you’ll ever play.
Developer: Playdead (www.playdead.com)
Publisher: Playdead (www.playdead.com)
Release Date: 29/06/2016
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PC