Short Version: I’m happy to say that we have another Game of the Year contender on our hands. It’s amazing how 2016 has been constantly surpassing my expectations with all of these great games. At first, I thought it couldn’t get any better than The Witness, but then Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir happened, then Devil Daggers, then Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, and now, we have Inside. This is an incredibly good game and a perfect follow up to Playdead’s Limbo. I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but if you are an avid gamer, you can’t die and leave this mortal coil without playing this game. Telling you anything about it would mean to spoil it, so just trust me and go play it.
Long Version: Despite the fact that I am calling it the “long version” of the review, this will probably be one of the shortest reviews I’ve written so far, since going into any explicit detail on Inside will mean to spoil what I consider a 2-hour work of art in motion. It is truly mind blowing how much Playdead, the company that created this game, has grown and improved over the span of 6 years. Back when Limbo first came out, it was one of the first independent titles to popularize the indie game and leave a huge mark in the industry, alongside other titles like Braid and Super Meat Boy. Now, with Inside, they have completely outdone themselves in every way imaginable, setting a new standard for quality and storytelling for the independent game space. In other words, I really, really, really, REALLY like Inside.
Similar, Yet Different
If any of you have played Limbo before, then congratulations, you know how to play Inside. The game begins pretty much immediately in the forest as you control a small boy who is trying to escape an oppressive force that seems to be taking control of the populace. Like Limbo, you an only run, jump and interact with objects in the environment such as pushing things, moving levers and climbing. You use these controls to explore a variety of different environments, all with different platforming and puzzle elements and end up coming back later. In addition, there is no loading in this game, so all of the different levels flow into each other like bread through butter. If you feel like I’m just describing Limbo all over again, then yeah, I pretty much am. However, that doesn’t mean that the experience is the same.
Inside is an improvement from Limbo in the same way that Transistor is from Bastion. Both games look, feel, sound and play in a similar fashion, but the experiences within them are completely different and absolutely worth exploring. A big difference from Limbo is that the world actually has color and depth, rather than 2D silhouettes. Here, it is very much a 2.5D environment, where you can see many things out into the distance of the background, but you are stuck moving left and right in the foreground. This, along with some incredible lighting and color, makes for some gorgeous visuals. Every single time I freeze-framed parts of the game footage for my video review, I felt like having those images as my desktop background, or framing it on my wall.
Red Dot In A Sea Of Gray
The sound is just as competent as the visuals. In terms of music, most of the game is in complete silence, or at least contains some very light drones of sound in the background. This gives all of the sound effects and Foley work their time to shine with footsteps, animals, rain, machinery and some other completely unexpected things later on. Of course, the lack of regimented music tracks isn’t a bad thing at all. If anything, it adds to the experience, since the game is trying to communicate a somber, lonely and suspenseful feeling throughout. They truly make you feel like you are stepping into places that have a lot of history behind them, similar to how Chell discovers the old remains of Aperture Science underground in Portal 2, except here, no one is laughing. In other words, emotions alight as you explore all of these beautifully drab levels.
You will often feel incredibly tiny as you meet up with these enormous levels full of machines, walls, sounds and a very zoomed out camera that will make you feel even tinier. Everything in this game feels so deliberately designed and precisely calculated, but it also feels very natural and the furthest it can be to feeling contrived or forced. This game is designed in a way that nothing is out of place. Literally every single pixel you see on the screen was placed there for a reason; reasons that you may later figure out after playing through the game a second time, or having a conversation about it with other people. This is very much the kind of game where you are going to come out of it asking a lot of questions, rather than getting an easy, clear-cut story. Since there is absolutely no voiced dialogue or text to be seen, pretty much everything can be left to the audience’s interpretation, which is exactly the kind of thing legendary games and movies are made of.
Stuff Happens. Stuff! Happens!
At this point, I could talk about the puzzles, the mechanics and a variety of story beats to help you get a better picture of what to expect, but I think that would be a disservice to the game. I hate to be vague, but this really is one of the best games I’ve played so far this year. It’s the kind of game that people will write books about years down the line about what everything in it means and why other developers can learn from it. It is an absolute masterpiece of a video game that is only rivaled by the predecessor created by the same people.
In a moment of confession, I would like to disclose that I was suppose to play this game with the PC code that was given to me, but I was unable to launch the game at all in my machine, and I don’t own an Xbox One either. Because of this, I had no choice but to watch a full playthrough of it online. I thought, “Eh, the controls are like Limbo. How different can it be from just watching it?” Way different, it turns out. Not because of the controls, but the emotions that flow through you as a player when experiencing everything that happens in the game, especially when talking about the last 30 completely “WHAT THE F*CK THIS IS INSANE!!!” minutes of the game that’ll make you want to ponder in silence for a while after playing.
I then later discovered a friend of mine who had a copy of the game on Xbox One, so I played it there, beating the whole thing in one sitting. Believe me, it’s not the same thing to watch as it is to play it. Because of that, I regret having watched that playthrough, for I feel that the impact the game would’ve had on me would’ve been so much more powerful if I had actually made everything happen myself with a controller in my hands, rather than letting my impatience get the best of me.
In the end, everything will boil down to this: You have to play this game. It is incredibly good. Not only is it a good video game, but it is also an amazing work of art that can potentially be discussed by people that have never played a video game in their life. Do yourself a favor and become part of the conversation. Make time in your schedule to dedicate 2 hours of playing this game in one sitting, with headphones on, in a quiet, dark room. You won’t regret it.