When the developers, Playdead, announced they were creating a new game I was very excited – like a child on Christmas day. Limbo, their debut title, was a big hit critically and commercially but it had been a while since its initial release. I was a big, big, fan of Limbo. You see, I don’t often play games through for a second time, but this was one which I completed at least three times. So, I had very high expectations of Inside and I just hoped it didn’t let me down.
And you know what…it didn’t. It exceeded them, doubled them, tripled them and then sent my expectations into space.
To write this review and tell you what the game is about, is really hard. I don’t want to spoil anything about the delightful journey you will hopefully experience. The gameplay and controls are very much like Limbo, in which you have a jump button, an action button to interact with objects and your movement stick. That’s it, as simple as pie, but this game is far from simple. It can be described as a 2D action platformer if you like, but it breaks every rule of that genre and is a force within itself. It’s groundbreaking, innovative and beautiful beyond words.
You start the game outside in the countryside, emerging from the bushes and falling down a small incline. You’re a small boy, running from something and we soon see vans pulling up with strange masked men and vicious dogs who are trying to kill you. There is no explanation, tutorial or cut scene with filmic dialogue. What you see in front of you is the story. You’re the one who has to work out the mysteries of the game and you’re the one who will have your own interpretations of what things mean and what things are.
The world Playdead Studios have created and the narrative you play through is unlike anything you would have ever experienced. The way the atmosphere, visions and shadows of a dystopian society linger on the boy’s journey is remarkable. There are things you stumble on or interact with that you could only imagine what the back-story is or why they came to be. If I had to have a gun to my head to compare it to anything, I would say that The Matrix, 1984, and Children of Men are vague influences. The end section as well is so surprising, strange, weird and so moving that I was playing with my mouth open wide throughout.
Throughout the entire game, the action really works fluidly and the mechanics have been sharpened by the studio since its Limbo days. You still will die a bit, but not so much that you want to cry. The puzzles are hard enough to be taxing, but not so tough you’re looking for walkthroughs in the first two minutes. There is some really inventive stuff to be found here that plays with gravity, perspective and design – all of which is a joy to behold. Everything about Inside plays marvellously and is a pleasure to control. Even without any hints or words on the screen, you work out what to do because there are clues everywhere. Go near an object that can be interacted with and the boy might put his hand slightly to grab it, which makes you realise that it can be used. There are genius touches like this all the way through, touches which I won’t talk about, because again I don’t want to spoil your experience.
Then we have the look and tone of the game. This world looks stunning, beautiful, haunting, deeply disturbing and striking. So many things made me stand up and shout… NO WAY. I wanted to pause the game and just look on in awe. From the smallest feature, that of the change of perspective when an enemy in the background spots you, and then runs into the foreground, is really a lovely and frightening touch. Then we have the backgrounds and sections that the boy runs through that show epic themes and events that can take your breath away. The characters’ design show so much emotion and pathos from a simple movement that reams of dialogue in other games couldn’t get near to portraying. Still keeping quiet and not spoiling, but I can say there are some of the best underwater sections I have ever experienced in my long gaming history. I want to take every frame and put them in a scrapbook; not in a serial killer kind of way, but in an art kind of way. It is that amazing.
The sound score has again some blinding work on show. The score is simple, complex, emotive and spell blinding. The effects are dreamlike, but painful and poignant. There are no words, but there are shouts and groans and sighs that sum up a thousand words and are used to great effect throughout the game. Then there’s the atomic like pulse…I’ve said too much.
You can complete Inside in about four to five hours. There are secrets to be found if you can’t find them on the first playthrough and with all the achievements revolving around finding the secrets, Inside brings plenty of reasons to be replayed. As you can see from my comments above I love this game, I adore it and I wish more games could be like this.
Maybe some won’t like it, some might find it weird, but no one can deny the talent on show here and what Playdead have achieved. The Game of the Year title for 2016 has a new front runner.