Rarely does a game leave an impression like Inside does. So much so that, in the beginning of this review, I’m asking you to go and play it before reading. The latest creation of Playdead (makers of Limbo) wastes none of your time, has a striking art direction and plays impeccably. Even if you’re not a fan of 2D puzzle-platforming games, I believe it’s a must-play. A necessary experience in gaming and a steal at its current price. If you’d rather read the what I have to say, fair enough. Here’s my Inside Review.
Look and Feel
Inside exudes excellence in art direction without feeling pretentious. Both complex and simple all at once. Though the characters are intentionally uniform in their basic, blank faces and mannequin-like bodies, the way a water surface shimmers and how the game plays with lighting is superb. The light and the shadows in particular are impressive aesthetically as well as being an integral part of the gameplay.
Though mostly black-and-white, the game throws in hints of red, yellow and orange when necessary. It opts for tone more-so than colour to differentiate itself and I’ve never seen more impressive shades of grey in my life.
The most impressive aspect of Inside’s art design is that nothing feels out of place. Every tree, rock and piece of machinery seems to serve a purpose. Whether it’s to help you hide or to misdirect you, Playdead do a fantastic job of it.
The sound design is just as good, opting for a less-is-more approach. Silence helps to build the tension as a truck pulls up with two guards holed up inside and the young boy hides behind a rock early on. The crunching of leaves on the ground as you sprint from a barking dog in pursuit of you and the splash of taking a dive in the water all resonate thanks to the general lack of music. The game is mostly ambient sound and that’s what makes it work.
I’ve had to adapt my usual “Story” section to “Presentation” in Inside’s case. It clearly has a narrative, but it’s all told visually and through the ambient sound. Not a word is uttered.
A young boy in a red shirt attempts to evade his pursuers as he traverses a mysterious facility. In a world seemingly run by a select few, the adults appear to have been placated and herded like cattle. Surrounded by danger, the young boy makes a break for freedom. Or does he? Who the hell knows. All I know is…. the intrigue is fascinating.
It takes a special kind of experience to communicate such a subtle plot and make it resonate. Inside expertly portrays the struggle, tension and scope of it with only the aforementioned. I cared a great deal about my red-shirt kid and held a constant intrigue as to what in the bluest of hells was going on. It never loosened its grip on me, nor did it slap me in the face with its point. It holds you firmly in its grasp without squeezing too hard (get your minds out of the gutter).
Immediately after finishing the four hour experience, I found myself searching for theories on the ending and general meaning of the game. There’s nothing obvious about it, and it left me with more questions than answers, but it’s a game that builds upon itself throughout without becoming too heavy.
I wish I could elaborate, but it’d be a disservice to the game itself to give too many details. Just know that it’s open to interpretation. Or perhaps I lack the intelligence to determine the game’s meaning. It’s all possible!
On the surface, Inside is a satisfying 2D puzzle-platformer that encourages the player to move from left to right in order to progress through the game. As we’ve been trained to do since Mario. In doing so, the young boy in your control will encounter a variety of obstacles. From pulling off an aggressive pig’s tail in order to climb on top of him to reach a rope to avoiding search lights with inventive use of cover, Inside’s puzzles and platforming are incredible.
Solving puzzles made me feel like a genius, and any momentary frustrations caused me to laugh at myself once I’d found the solution. It’s not that the game’s puzzles are particularly difficult, but they’re remarkably well-crafted and satisfying to engage with as well as complete.
The core of the game’s brilliance is in how fluid the gameplay itself is. The movement of the boy and the characters that interact with him handle like a dream. The various items that require your input are without fault and it’s practically impossible to leave yourself stranded. Death animations are subtle yet impactful and the checkpoints are generous, as well as being swift to get you back in the game.
Secrets and Theories (Possible Spoilers – skip to “Overall”)
The game has you control the minds of slumped over adults quite often as a gameplay mechanic. I’d argue they’re some of the most enjoyable moments. What’s interesting is that the adults are the only ones “plugged in”. I had to search the various theories because the game left me with so many fragmented theories of my own, and I stumbled upon Patrick Klepek’s Kotaku article. He’s gathered some of the more interesting theories and the comment section also holds a few gems. I particularly like the idea that Playdead games have you “Play” as “dead” people, or that the final scene of the secret ending is the young boy unplugging himself from the player control.
It should suffice to say that any game encouraging that must brain-racking in a positive sense is worthy of praise. I loved playing Inside and its four hour run-time (for myself) was the exact right amount in my opinion. Any longer and it’d have over-stayed its welcome. As I’ve said, it’s a game that wastes nothing.
Inside is a masterpiece. Opinions are what they are, but I play a great many video games and Inside manages to leave its mark amongst the best I’ve ever played. We give games a ten out of ten when they accomplishment everything they set out to do in the best way we imagine they can, and Playdead have done just that. It’s a complete package with a clear goal and it deserves an evening of your life.
About This Inside Review
Game Reviewed: Inside by Playdead Games
Review Format: PS4
PEGI Rating: 18