Playdead return with another captivating puzzle platform adventure
Inside is an eerie puzzle-platform adventure game developed by Playdead, the independent Danish studio behind the critically acclaimed Limbo. Inside sees you take control of a young boy struggling to survive in a dystopian world. You will have to solve environmental puzzles as you are hunted through a treacherous landscape. The surreal environment you explore is presented primarily in a monochromatic 2D format, although splashes of colour are used to highlight key focal points.
The opening scenes of the game have a feel reminiscent of occupied Nazi Germany. You control a boy as he tries to evade capture in what appears to be a roundup of civilians. You creep through the woods as guards with flashlights search for any stragglers that have yet to be loaded up onto the waggons. With the barbed wire fences, soldiers with attack dogs, the seemingly totalitarian regime and the presence of occult experiments Inside draws on a human history of war and its possible, darker outcomes.
Graphically Inside manages to achieve aesthetic beauty within the range of a relatively dark palette. Stark visuals are often silhouetted by intense, radiant lighting that casts a burst of colour into the gloomy scenes. Inside features silky smooth animations with every action looking natural as the boy walks, runs, swims, climbs and jumps around the environment trying to solve puzzles in order to progress. Should you fail in your endeavours then you’ll be greeted by one of the game’s numerous death animations. Whether it’s as simple as getting shot with a tranquillizer gun or as gruesome as being mauled by attack dogs Inside’s excellent animation never fails to relay your failure in a graphic and realistic manner. This combination of beautiful graphics and detailed animation create a distinctive art style that has now become synonymous with Playdead’s games.
You’ll find Inside has a remarkably quiet soundtrack that creates a tense atmosphere that, on occasion, is penetrated by bursts of noise and action. Inside embraces the power of silence and utilises musical cues to enhance the brilliance of its more complex puzzles. Returning composer, Martin Stig Andersen, created a soundtrack inspired by 1980’s horror film B movies. The integration of gameplay and audio is evidently much tighter here building up on the tension in the approach to the game’s more frantic moments. The result is a sombre and chilling musical score that works in tandem with Inside’s haunting visuals to create an eerie and creepy atmosphere.
Inside opts for a minimalistic design in terms of control scheme. The boy can jump, grab, push and pull, as well as perform contextual actions in regards to situations like pressing a button or pulling a lever. Although mechanically simplistic, Inside’s real depth comes from its clever and intuitive puzzles. Inside is a surprisingly energetic game. You’re always in motion, always moving forward, there’s not a great deal of doubling back on yourself. In this way it’s goal orientated, environmental puzzles compliment that pacing well and deliver a fluid experience that builds its way towards your eventual unknown goal. The complexity of the puzzles offers interesting situations that require some thought to complete. Of note is the returning mind control mechanic, although its use here is more reminiscent of games such as Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, in that you can take direct control of other characters. No doubt inspired by said games, Inside again pushes an ageing genre forward, bringing it up to date in a stylish and artistic way.
Playdead’s atmospheric platformer may confuse players a bit in the story department though. It presents numerous quandaries as to the purpose of the main character and his motivations to keep moving forward. Who is this unnamed boy? what is he running from? and where is he going? Much in the keeping of Playdead’s style the player is trusted to form his own interpretation of the game’s meaning and mysteries. Featuring no dialogue Inside attempts to relay the many layers of the game’s complex story to the player through atmosphere and imagery. Clandestine experiments and a populace seemingly enslaved by a totalitarian government hint at some of the dark undertones Inside tries to communicate.
The underwater sections are particularly intriguing, offering a refreshing change of pace. It’s here that you first encounter the siren-like creatures that appear to be some kind of failed experiment. The game’s later sections become even more obscure as you find yourself in a laboratory of some kind surrounded by concerned looking scientists. After being drawn towards the centre of the facility, which houses a huge glass enclosure, you meet the escalation of the inhumane experiments you have witnessed so far throughout the game, a creature known as the Huddle. The game’s journey and subsequent conclusion could be interpreted in a variety of different ways dependant on the player’s perception. It appears the game gives you room to draw your own meaning from its complex themes based on your own experiences. To confuse things further the game also features an alternative ending in which the boy abruptly ends the story, which in turn ends the game. Part of the beauty of Inside’s silent narrative though is the multiple ways in which players will try to understand and dissect its meaning, forming divisive theories as to the overall implication.
Comparatively Inside surpasses its predecessor in every aspect. At first glance, it could easily be mistaken for a colourised version of Limbo, but upon playing Inside there are obvious mechanical improvements and tonal deviations. Inside’s story certainly has more narrative layers than Playdead’s earlier title. Inside invites the player to draw conclusions from the story based on their own perspective of it, a feat that Limbo just fell short of. It’s like they took what worked in Limbo and expanded on it. The puzzles are more intricate and entertaining. The game world is more detailed and atmospheric. And the story is more thought out and convincing. There is something quite haunting about Playdead’s games in general, the dark themes are concurrent. They manage to relate a substantial amount of meaning for games that feature no dialogue. It is their use of nonverbal communication that earns them such high praise, for it is not easy to tell a story in this fashion. This is why Playdead’s games can easily be appreciated as art.
Overall Inside represents a remarkable leap forward for Playdead’s design style. It relays a complex story without the need for narrative background and sets an artistic standard for the puzzle, platform genre. Its atmosphere sucks you in propelling you into a dangerous world of mystery and intrigue where the search for answers is your ultimate goal. Inside succeeds as a video game in every sense and will know doubt, like its predecessor, come to be regarded as an example of video game art in the eyes of future generations.
*Transparency: The opinions in this review were formed on the basis of a paid for copy played on Xbox One.