Playdead’s Limbo has been a stand out title since its release back in 2010 thanks in part to its brilliant presentation that sets a dark and disturbing tone few other games have ever achieved so effectively. That combined with a dark and punishing humour made for a title that may have been short but really impacted players.
Now with Inside, Playdead take the positives of that first game and delivers a new story that pushes the envelope even further towards making games as art whilst keeping it as accessible as the first.
Just to give you a heads up, we’re not going to drop any spoilers at all here – like Limbo it’s best to experience the game with as little prior knowledge as possible. Especially due to the game’s length, too much information will impact a lot of the surprises. As a result I will tend to reference the original game a lot in comparisons.
The game plays as a side scrolling platformer with a basic set of controls; the stick for movement, A button to jump and B button to grab/use. That may seem simple at first but there is a considerable amount of context given to those actions and players will not find themselves short of variety in what they need to do. There are some moments though where it would be nice to have more instruction on the controls but if you are willing to experiment most of it will present itself.
An area where Insidehas and edge over Limbo is in the tension it generates. Both games succeed in creating a strong feeling of dread and moments of horror but Inside also throws at you some real moments of panic and desperation as you are forced towards fight or flight with your fragile character. Soon enough you pick up on the early warning signs of what’s to come but that still doesn’t prevent you from getting really anxious as you progress. That it succeeds so well in this regard is a credit to the developers.
And that sense of pervasive dread is well founded – this is not a happy place you’ve landed yourself in. Death can be quick, can be unexpected and can also be downright nasty. But the why’s and how’s of your situation and why you’re pitting your character through these trials are not revealed at first and will only present themselves over the course of your journey.
It seems almost hard to believe that Playdead could make their presentation style even more impressive but they do. The shift to a 3D engine for Inside delivers some great imagery with some subtle use of colour and lighting. There’s not a lot of it but they know how to make it count.
And though your character is traveling in a 2D plane, a lot of work has been done on animation to make it seem like the characters are inhabiting a world with real depth. It’s most noticeable when interacting with objects in the environment with many having a great impression of weight and substance in the world. Despite that it doesn’t stray too far from the familiar physics of a 2D game.
The camerawork is really special. Slight changes in perspective and use of zoom help in reinforcing the scale and atmosphere in situations. Often there are things going on in the background or at the edges of the screen that tease you about the larger world and for a game without any spoken words or text this additional effort goes a long way. It’s like you’re playing a game made by people who know WAY more about cinema than you and are putting it to brilliant use.
The audio excels in the ambience and is understated but it really doubles down on the dreary atmosphere and there are some downright nasty sounds at times too. That same sound also enhances the gameplay by offering useful cues to help in solving problems. This is a game that wants you to turn up the volume as you are also turning down the lights.
The difficulty seems less punishing than Limbo but it is made up for with puzzles that I feel require more out of the box thinking. In addition there are hidden secrets tucked away that will require that little bit of extra work to find. I think this all works in the game’s favour and brings some rewards in being able to work out a solution and continue to move forward instead of just simple relief in surviving an encounter. I’ll admit there were a couple of times I was caught out during the middle sections of the game but apart from that I think most people will enjoy the challenges presented here.
Though Inside may only take a few short hours to complete, it delivers a disturbing but memorable story that will play on your thoughts long after you’ve finished it. Now, if only everyone can play it so we can all talk about it without spoilers…
Inside is out now on Xbox One and coming soon to PC.