In a world of greyscale, a child stands alone. Their silent surroundings hint at the terrors that lurk both in the shadows and right in front of their eyes, but despite their fear, they are unshaken. A hint of red in their otherwise unremarkable outfit breaks through the black and white and shows the viewer that their story is one of importance. No, I’m not talking about Schindler’s List. No, I’m not describing Limbo, another game that would easily fit those first two sentences of the description. Instead, this is the beginning of Limbo developer Playdead’s second black and white dystopian platformer–but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just a repeat of their last success story. Inside has its own story to tell, and boy is it one heck of a story.
Before I say any more, I need to make two things clear:
1) Unlike the rest of the world, I didn’t play Limbo. It’s on my list, I just never got around to it. So while I know there are a lot of comparisons to be made between Playdead’s two games, I won’t be making them here, because I have no idea what I’m talking about.
2) I can’t talk about what makes Inside unique. Not really. I can only scratch the surface and say that if the thought of a deep philosophical crisis excites you, if you are overjoyed by the idea of a game that really makes you think, then you should give Inside a try.
If you’re really keen, then maybe you should stop reading now and just go in blind, because that’s how you’re going to get the most out of this darkly observational tale. For everyone else, I’ll do my best not to spoil it.
From the moment you are acquainted with our solitary protagonist, it’s clear that the goal is to avoid capture. He is running through a mysterious and silent world and though it’s not quite apparent what he’s running from or where he hopes to end up, you know that being caught is not an option. You’ll learn very early on that capture means death, though the ‘death’ animations themselves are often understated. Most of the time you’ll see the boy being dragged away, or the screen will fade to black and what follows is left to your imagination, which only serves to add to the tension–as does, it seems, everything else in the game. There’s no attack button, your only options are to jump or interact with the world around you, and this both highlights just how vulnerable this young boy is in this disturbing world and forces you to be creative in how you solve problems. Often the answer will involve outsmarting your attackers or taking shelter until it’s safe to move and even though the aesthetic of the game doesn’t change much as you go on, each puzzle feels fresh. I’m not usually a fan of puzzles that take trial and error to solve, but in Inside the respawn points are forgiving and it never feels like a chore. Everything feels logical and intuitive, and when you fail it’s easy to see why and rectify it with another attempt.
More than anything else, Inside is a game that has generated discussion. The world that serves as a backdrop for these puzzles raises more questions than it answers, as bleak as they may be. It has points to make about autonomy, free-thinking, technology and the future we’re headed towards, but to me it was a little hard to see what some of these points were. The best puzzles in the game were puzzles I don’t want to talk about too much because they provided some of the best food-for-thought, and as I was playing I started to feel uncomfortable with what was required to solve them. Who had I become? Was I becoming part of the systemic terror in this mysterious world? In any other game I might have solved similar puzzles and not given my actions a second thought, but Inside is not like any other game.
For me, the problem is that though Inside asked a lot of deep and truly thought-provoking questions, it fell short in answering them. What had been an incredible build-up came crashing down in the final section, and instead of providing any kind of closure it ventured into the absurd. There’s probably something to be said in the fact that instead of blaming the game, I’ve spent the last week wondering what I was missing, what kind of message I was supposed to take from this turn of events that I just haven’t noticed. But in the end, I needed more answers. The game was technically near-perfect, the use of sound and the minimal colour palette were carefully orchestrated and cleverly placed, but those big questions about this intriguing world that I’d become so invested in just weren’t answered–and I needed that. That said, you should definitely throw yourself inside Inside (lol) and experience that existential crisis–and then you should come and talk to me about what the hell that ending was supposed to mean because I have so many words and not a single clue.
“Not perfect by any means, but an 8 means that the writer thoroughly enjoyed this game and would strongly recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in the genre.”
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Inside for PC.