You’ll never forget Inside – even if you may want to forget its ending.
The indie-platform puzzler leaves a lasting impression on anyone who plays it, packing in more surprises, shocks and inventiveness in its short three-or-so hour runtime than many games manage in 20 times that amount.
For the uninitiated, Inside is the mysterious follow up to developer PlayDead’s 2010 breakout hit Limbo. Like Limbo, Inside is a side-scrolling adventure that deals in equal parts platforming action, brain-bending puzzles and unsettling intrigue. Taut and crafted to the point where not a moment of these relatively brief tales have a second of wasted action, Limbo deals in horror-twinged fantasy, whereas Inside plumbs the depths of sci-fi conspiracy.
It’s almost a cliche to say, but going in knowing too much about Inside runs the risk of ruining its surprise. So I’d take no offence if you stopped reading now – provided it was to go away and play this fantastic game.
A lesson in dying
Tension and fear dictate every step in Inside, as you play a young boy on the run in an oppressive, tyrannical world. The muted color palette, mixed with the Orwellian subjugation and control of the game’s inhabitants, eventually gives way to a sense of horror as you delve deeper into a covert scientific facility and uncover its secrets.
It’s a game punctuated by violence. A platformer it may loosely be, but this ain’t no Mushroom Kingdom. Your voiceless, faceless protagonist will be mauled by dogs, drowned, splattered and crushed many times over before you reach the game’s end.
What’s masterful about Inside, even more so than its punishing predecessor Limbo, is that it never feels unfair, however. Environmental cues, be they visual or audible, always guide you gently to a puzzle’s answer. It’s always a matter of logical thinking, and never trial and error. Inside is a game that makes you feel smart, even though the smartest work has been in the design of puzzles whose solutions are hiding in plain sight.
Death comes frequently and painfully, but each death is short-lived (you’ll respawn close to the moment of your demise) and a lesson learned, arming you with the knowledge you’ll need to progress further. For want of sounding sadistic, death is inventively dished out, too – Inside is expertly animated, with wince-inducing punishments for each of your individual indiscretions.
And then there’s the ending. I’m not sure I can think of a more profound “What the Actual ‘Eff?” moment in my 30-odd years of playing games than the last 10 or 15 minutes of Inside, where all its mystery and weirdness coalesces into a monstrously congealed whole, before ending as abruptly as it began. It has to be played to be believed.
Inside is a masterclass in never out staying its welcome, even if it burrows a gooping chamber in your memory forever. I can’t wait to see what PlayDead eventually comes up with next – even if I’ll be viewing it through my fingers.