Inside (PC, Xbox One, and PS4)

This game’s got a deep story and is eminently spoilable. As such this review will contain minimal spoilers and will not mention any big twists that may or may not be in this game.

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A faceless child is on the run from a vague yet menacing scientific organization. Through wilderness and ruin they will go, forever toward the East. To what ends? I cannot say. You’ll have to play and discover that on your own.

History

Inside was developed by Playdead, a Danish indie studio known for making Limbo and Inside. Inside was designed and intended to be a spiritual successor to Limbo, taking that game’s systems to a more refined extreme. Limbo had been made with a custom engine but Inside used the Unity engine to great effect. It lightened the workload and increased the ease of development.

Inside was released on June 29th, 2016 (For XBox One). It’s competition was The Technomancer (PC, PS4, and XBox One), Trials of the Blood Dragon (PC, PS4, XBox One), and Pokemon Go (iOS, an Droid).

Experiences

This game got me really immersed. I was totally into running from the agents and their hounds. I didn’t know why I had to go East but I could tell that it was important. This was a kid driven by some impulse or force and I wanted to know why. I went as far as to let the child rest after a daring and close escape. Thinking that somehow, my treatment of the child would impact events in some way. But then there’s an event around the half-way mark that took the wind out of my sales and pissed in my cheerios… but more on that later.

Gameplay

Inside is a puzzle platformer which means the child is gonna end up moving boxes and climbing things. He’ll also probably end up pushing buttons or pulling levers that do weird things to the area. No matter what, your goal is to eliminate or circumvent whatever obstacles come between you and the left side of the screen.

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Oh, and some stealth elements thrown in there sometimes, maybe, sort-of.

One of the main puzzle mechanics are the control helmets. You may notice mishappen and listless not-men in the background at various points in the game. If you see these guys there’s probably a control helmet nearby. Shove your skull into that thing and the drones will come to life and start mimicking your movements and actions. Bear in mind, these not-men are much stronger than you — it sucks to be twelve.

The Gush

It’s difficult to avoid comparisons between Inside and Limbo so I’m not even gonna try. Thankfully I’ve got nothing but good things to say. In the same way that Left 4 Dead 2 is just a more fine-tuned Left 4 Dead 1, Inside is a more refined Limbo. More striking visuals, more forgiving checkpoints, and more mechanical elements than it’s predecessor. It doesn’t get stale though simply because so much time has passed between the releases and because the stories are completely different.

Speaking of story, although Inside doesn’t spell out what the plot is it’s clear that there is one. It’s easy to make meaning of who the child is and what they’re looking for especially once they find it.

I found the puzzles to be simple but fascinating. I only got stuck for any length of time twice. One of those instances was simply a platforming challenge that I thought was more complicated than it was.

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The bizarre puzzle elements are so memorable that I remember this area’s gimmick from the image alone.

Although if these puzzles are too easy for you then you can search for the 13 secret orbs. Explore the world to its limits to find and disable these hidden and secret machines to unlock a sort of secret ending.

The Kvetch

I do take umbrage with the platforming in some instances. Some jumps require pixel precision which is exacerbated by the child’s walk cycle. It’s difficult to determine exactly where they’re standing, prompting an early jump and subsequent death. I mentioned getting stuck in a platforming situation. I ended up spending 20 minutes trying to find a puzzle solution for a jumping problem.

Time for some minor spoilers and a major gripe. Inside thrives on a minimalist story. Presenting only as much information as it needs for the mind to build a cohesive narrative. There is a point though I cannot reconcile. In the game we are introduced to a mer-person who haunts the waters. It is fast, strong, and deadly. Never hesitating to pursue the child and sparing no brutality in dispatching them. There comes a point where the mer-person suddenly develops a conscience — or something — and elects to rescue and empower the child. After mulling this moment over in my head for nearly two weeks now, I cannot figure out why this creature does this. I cannot fathom an explanation and no other media sources has been able to offer a satisfying explanation — or any explanation at all. It seems so small but in a short concise game it really ripped me out of the story and destroyed my immersion for the rest of the experience.

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That siren? Save my life? That’s gonna need an explanation.

The Verdict

Inside is good. It’s damn good. It’s a monument to indie quality, what a game is, and how it can make you feel. But it has that one serious blemish for me. My repeated attempts to cover it up should stand as testament to its quality and how close it is to working. Still, if you’re seeking a wild but succinct experience with a low barrier to entry then Inside will do well by you.

Next Week: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

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