The emotional palette that is ever-present throughout Inside, ranges from a game that gives you hope that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, to something filled with harrowing loneliness that makes you want to cry. It’s these constant confounding emotional moments that make Inside resonant so much with me. In this follow-up to 2010’s acclaimed Limbo, developer Playdead has given us a work of art that is without question one of the best games of this generation. Whether it be it’s wordless storytelling, it’s deceptively rich environments or it’s overall atmosphere, Inside’s narrative has you questioning what is happening and leaves you shaken to core.
From the start Inside’s setting is gripping. You play as a nameless, faceless boy thrust into the woods with no context, who’s sole purpose it would seem, is avoid capture by more nameless, faceless men. However, as you journey onward your surroundings tell a story about the world in which you reside. It’s a world that’s shrouded in mystery, which slowly revels itself more and more to you as you progress, while still able to retain it’s strange and tenebrous ambience. Multiple times I found myself watching shadowy background figures, just to see how they interacted with one another and their surrounding, trying to discover all the clues I could about this eerie world.
The gameplay in Inside is straightforward while still maintaining a sense of gloom in itself. It’s a standard 2D puzzle-platformer, but what sets it apart is the way it introduces it mechanics. There is no text in the game meaning that all of the mechanics are taught to you through the world alone. The most frequent way things are learned is through death. Just like Limbo, Inside’s death animations are incredibly gruesome, especially considering the fact that you’re constantly watching a little boy’s be mauled and mangled over and over again. Despite this, dying isn’t a punishment, it’s a valuable way to learn lessons through trail and error, and with quick load times there’s never a moment where you are too aggravated.
Enemies are few and far between and typically you’re biggest adversary in Inside is the environment itself. However, the ones which do turn up are often brutal and haunting. Some semi-scripted chase scenes occasionally have you on the edge of your seat, as narrowly outrun a dog or other terrifying creatures, but the way you predominately interact with Inside is through it’s puzzles.
Many of the puzzles aren’t overly complex, just minor speed bumps to move the adventure along but, they do help add to the narrative and build an infinity with the world and it’s inhabitants. Unlike in more difficult puzzle games, I never found myself getting stuck in any major way that would break the pace of the journey. That’s not to diminish their value but only to say they are not what makes this game is a masterpiece.
The thing at the center of Inside’s brilliance is it’s narrative. Dropped into a world that you know nothing about, putting the pieces together and filling in your own interpretation of what certain things and events mean is how Inside get’s underneath your skin. In a little over three hours, without words, it tells a very dark, somber science fiction story that as I write this I can’t stop thinking about. Constantly it’s backdrops and unnerving experimentation rooms had me feeling like I was playing something that wouldn’t feel too out-of-place in an George Orwell novel.
To go into any more regarding it’s story would be to take away the impact of experiencing it for yourself. Going into the game knowing nearly nothing made it’s twists and turns even more “what just happened” inducing. But the fact that after my first play through I instantly went back to experience it again, and to unlock sections I missed should tell you how gripping it’s story is.
It took Playdead almost six years to put out their follow-up to Limbo, and that time certainly was put to good use. It’s world is simultaneously macabre and filled with heart. It isn’t a game made to sell millions of copies. It has exactly two trailers, one at last year’s E3 and another this year. It was released just two weeks after it was given a date, and a quick look at Playdead’s Twitter account shows just three tweets, two from the past week. These developer aren’t out to make millions of dollars from nickel and diming their audience with season passes and micro transactions. They are artists who, with Inside, have taken art in gaming to its up most degree and crafted an experience that showcases the unique stories gaming can tell.
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