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Inside Review - Not another brick in the wall

There isn’t a singular moment during Inside where I felt my attention teetering off. From its captivating opening to its confusing closing moment, Inside captures the essence of what made developer Playdead’s previous title, Limbo great – and improves on it in every facet imaginable. It’s a stunning, harrowingly lonely game that is best experienced without a smidge of reference, and leaves you feeling just as fulfilled as it does confused.

Much like Limbo, Inside has you playing a nameless, this time faceless boy who has to make his way through increasingly dangerous physics-based puzzles as you press forward in a gorgeously detailed 2.5D world. Inside’s world is integral to its theming, and it’s tough to think of a game that intrinsically ties these two together so perfectly. Inside is filled to the brim with dread, with ideas of dystopia, societal autonomy and human experimentation. Inside is disturbing, start to finish.

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What makes this depressing world so engrossing however is just the amount of care that is take to build it. Inside is a typically mute game, but all of its ideas are translated eloquently through its visualisation. Seeing ravenous attack dogs bearing down on you before making a massive jump, or witnessing seemingly mindless humans droning on to the beat of a drum make Inside feel like the perfect realisation of a Pink Floyd music video made videogame. Which is probably the best way to describe it without giving anything away.

Sound design permeates through here too, and it would be criminal not to mention how utterly fantastic it is. Sound effects are used in the best way possible, alerting you to objects within the game world while encapsulating dangers so perfectly that you shiver when their track plays. More often than not though it’s the silence that gets to you, with every echoing drip of water or shift in the environment nearly sending you out of your skin in response.

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Inside mechanically bears no difference to Limbo though. The entire game relies on two inputs – jump and grab – and uses these in incredibly effective ways with physics and timing based puzzles. Interacting with your surroundings becomes almost as important as admiring them, with the game seamlessly blending objects that will aid your progression with the background. This can lead sometimes to confusion (especially in some of the opening sections), but before long it’s a world that you’ll understand more and more.

What separates Inside so distinctly from Limbo though is how it doesn’t sit on its hands and throw the same type of puzzles at you. There are distinct moments in Inside that only happen once, and the game is better for it. One moment you might be mimicking the movements of drone like citizens to pass security, while in another you’ll be shifting objects to avoid tazer-loaded spotlights.  Almost nothing makes a repeat performance, and those that do stick around for an encore never overstay their welcome.

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This elevates the sometimes taxing puzzles, because Inside has you constantly learning. It almost felt as though I never really got into a stride, with the game effortlessly flowing from one theme to another while keeping my wits on high alert. Puzzles are just as intellectually demanding as they were in Limbo, but Inside’s tighter controls and more elegant approach to design makes them more intuitive than frustrating. And the results are puzzle solutions that feel gratifying and worthwhile.

This idea of change flows through the game’s four to five hour playtime, and climax with an utterly powerful ending that flips everything you’ve known about the game up until that point on its head. Inside’s ending is just as vague and confusing as the rest of it, but doesn’t leave lingering questions as a hopes for continuation. Instead, this is a game concerned with what you think about it after the credits have rolled, chewing on its messages to formulate your own ideas of what it all means. And, more importantly who really is in control.

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It punctuates these ideas with sometimes harsh messages of death, expounded by images of your protagonist dying in truly awful ways should you fail. Inside still has a lingering sense of trial and error in some cases, and these deaths can be hard to sit through. Seeing a guard dog rip your throat out while a spray of red paints the floor, or seeing your red-sweatered hero choked out by another dystopian citizen can be hard to watch, but it hits home just how dire and hopeless this world really is.

Inside is best experienced in one sitting, and it’s a game that is going to be on my mind for a long while. What it lacks in replayability (there are seriously obtuse collectibles to find for an alternate ending), it makes up for tenfold in mystery. Inside is hands down one of the weirdest narratives you’re likely to ever play, but it asks questions through its design and mechanics so expertly that other games can only hope to one day do the same.

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