We always hear about the difficult second album in music, but the same definitely applies to gaming. It’s especially potent when a developer spends a considerable amount of time tweaking and perfecting their second game, and with PlayDead having spent the past six years developing what would turn out to be Inside, the question is, has it been worth the wait?
I went into Inside completely blind, which incidentally I would wholeheartedly recommend you do as well, but to get this out of the way, Inside is only a few hours long from beginning to end. There are a few collectibles scattered in hidden locations along the way and thankfully the game allows for loading of specific points to do this, but really if you’re the consumer that wants tons of things to do and tens of hours of play, you won’t find them here. That being said though, this is one of the more imaginative indie platformers out there.
Inside is deeply oppressive in its visual and audio design, much like the great dystopian settings seen in cinema, but somehow it’s given an even bleaker tone. Drab monochrome colours, expressionless faces, and a hostile ambience are truly unsettling, making it far more involving to guide the young boy to his destination.
Weirdly, it’s not the first game to have such a setting, as Monochroma did a very similar thing back in 2014. However, Inside is not only far more polished when it comes to the basics of its platforming and puzzle elements, it also takes the oppressive setting and amplifies it to, at times, uncomfortable levels.
Much like Playdead’s first game, Limbo, the controls for Inside are minimalistic and easy to grasp. The child can jump and drag objects around in order to solve physics based puzzles. At times, his movement does feel somewhat floaty, but this is only really a problem early in the game when getting used to how he handles. At no point does Inside tell you what to do though, which speaks wonders for the design of the game.
Where Inside steps outside of the norm is when it gives the player the ability to control drone-like humans and other more unique moments. It’s bits like these that remind us that there are still fresh ideas to explore in games and they’re well worth experiencing on your own without spoiling things by watching it first.
Stark similarities will be made to Limbo, especially toward the start of the game, as things will definitely be out to kill you. However the game becomes increasingly imaginative, with a prime example being the segment where a pack of dogs is unable to get past a chain link fence, but can run around it to catch the boy when prying open an escape route. Nothing feels especially obtuse, though there are occasionally moments where the logic is a little bit out there.
As I said, I went into Inside with next to no foreknowledge, and as such, the philosophical quandaries of the narrative, that features no words or text, have a much greater impact on what the developer is trying to convey. Without spoiling anything, I’m still not exactly sure what they’re trying to convey with this dystopian setting, but I feel a second playthrough may answer some of those questions.
Inside is not for those looking for hours of fun, opting instead to channel the ‘games as art’ mentality that has been debated into the dirt. It’s a game that people will be trying to figure out the meaning to for months to come. Should the limited content and depressing setting not put you off, this is one piece of avant-garde gaming that’s definitely worth experiencing for yourself.
Version Tested: Xbox One