Six long years passed since Limbo, one of the best indie titles ever, saw the light of day. Since then, there was no word about Playdead’s next game, until some time ago. What we saw was another take on platformer genre but this time, the developer brought more life to their next game. Instead minimal black and white surroundings we could see different environments, similar gameplay, an almost identical main protagonist and colors, lots of colors (at least compared to Limbo). Yes, Inside shows how a small development team can evolve. Like a writer able to leverage his game with every next book, Playdead proved that indie scene is still one the rise, and with Inside, they showed the world that six long years of waiting weren’t in vain.
There’s something inviting about desperation; just seeing someone trying to escape from his or hers abominable world, trying to reach the light and pass the gates, escaping from horrors of everyday life, calls of oblivion, makes us immediately stick to the screen, becoming silent witnesses of someone’s fall and subsequent rise. Desperation is one of the main elements of Inside, where a small child is trying to escape the sick, twisted, bleached world of tomorrow.
This time, we aren’t just silent, mute witnesses watching scenes where we cannot make any influence. This time, it is us making decisions, guiding the character through the depression-filled fields of some parallel world (or is it?) where there’s no moral, there’s no free thought, where everyone is just another servant.
And this element of Inside, it’s minimal but a heart-wrenching story is the best part of the game. The story isn’t told by numerous dialogues, bigger-than-life cut scenes, or some other ways of storytelling. The story unfolds along with the game, and most elements are left for the player to decipher them himself. Is the world of Inside just a gruesome imagination of its makers? Is it some sort of twisted version of 1984? Or is it a mirror reflection of our own world? There are probably million possible explanations, and every player will interpret the story for himself.
And that’s Inside’s biggest strength, making players draw connections based not on the game, but on their own views, beliefs and their own power of imagination. This author sees Inside as a dark, gritty satire showing our own consumer society, where masses are hypnotized by mass media and where television is the supreme deity, to whom everyone makes regular sacrifices. The world where free thinking is judged by others and where political correctness could soon cross the line, making the world burn. But this is just one, subjective interpretation of the world of Inside, and you all can make your own conclusions, no matter how mad or unbelievable they might look.
Near the end, things get a bit crazy, and the whole game starts feeling like a madman experiment, throwing at you one question after the next. But, it still keeps some level of coherence, so most players will be surprised, but will not stop playing.
Now, let’s talk a bit about gameplay. The gameplay of Inside is many times seen combination of platforming, environmental puzzle solving and occasional running for your life from enemies. You are weak, one hit and you’re out, but smart and fast thinking can get you away from any enemy. Puzzles are a joy to solve since they aren’t too rigid, they usually consist of just a couple of elements and are very rewarding.
It’s a joy to see the child able to move forward because of our wit, or ability to see elements, make connections between them and finally clear the path forward. There are some time-triggered puzzles which can make you more than a bit nervous but those are found in just a couple of places during the game. Most of the time, Inside offers environmental puzzles that are fun, a bit challenging and very interesting to solve.
The sound is phenomenal, and even though most of the time you won’t hear a thing, when there are sounds to her, they will be exquisitely performed. Dog’s bark, silent weeps of the main character, the sound of things crumbling, the sound of water splashing, fire burning, the sounds of steps taken, bones crushing, all of them are incredibly done. And when an occasional melody starts playing, the whole game becomes even better. Indeed, the audio part of Inside is top-notch, and developers should be praised just because they’ve made such immersive aural experience.
But then you see the art style and graphics, and feeling of awe just continues circling through your brain cells. Environments, although without many colors, are full of details, whether those are distant farmhouses, trees moving in the wind, or offices full of various stuff. Especially incredible is the play between light and shadows; an incredible atmospheric art style of Inside is very hard to describe, but when you start playing the game, you’ll understand what we’ve tried to say in an instant.
Graphics are solid, with a phenomenal shading, solid textures, and fantastic animation. The animation is really one of the stars of the show. The feel of acceleration when you start running, the excellent feel of inertia, and amazing look of every jump, every fall and every climb you make is a joy to look at.
Inside, even if being an incredible game, has its share of negatives. For a start, the game is just way too short (like Limbo). If you start playing it in the morning, you’ll finish the game in the early afternoon. Three and a half, maybe four hours of content is all there is, and once you finish the game there’s no reason for another playthrough since the story is linear. And the ending is abrupt and more puzzling than the one in Limbo; but, at least until the end, you’re too excited to think about it.
All in all, Inside is a marvelous gem of a game, a game that proves that video games can indeed be pieces of art. A new, interactive art that couldn’t be done before. And although the game is quite short in length we can forgive her because this amount of fun is really tough to find in video games these days. Highly recommended.