Many considered Playdead's first game, Limbo, to be an instant classic. It had a simple tale that was told well without any use of dialogue, text or cut scenes. Billed as a puzzle platformer, it had a few brain-teasers but was otherwise straightforward. It also had a presentation that was stark but beautiful, giving it an artistic look for those who appreciated the decision to limit the use of color. After a few years spent making sure that it was available on almost every platform, the development team returned with Inside. Considered to be a spiritual successor to their debut game, it matches that title in a few areas while surpassing it in others.
The story is simple one once you discover what it is about, but it's better if you go in cold. The most anyone can tell you about the tale is that you are a red-shirted boy who, for unknown reasons, is trying to get into a facility where strange things are afoot. Things become more odd the further you go, and while none of it will prepare you for the big reveal, the game becomes more intriguing once you reach that spot and realize that things aren't over yet.
The one part that will spark some conversation is the ending. Like an art film, it seems apparent on the surface, but the details remain vague. With no dialogue or other indicators to let you know what just happened, the game forces you to interpret things on your own, which makes for a good story. Granted, some folks would like things to be much clearer by the end, but when you consider how few titles attempt to tell a story that is both vague yet engrossing enough to transcend text and speech, the approach remains novel in a positive way.
Inside can be best described as a puzzle-platformer. There's no combat present, and almost all of your puzzles deal with hitting switches or pushing boxes to just the right spots to open passageways or let you reach higher platforms. Most of your journey takes place on foot, but there are a few sections where swimming is required and even one where you can pilot a one-man submarine for a lengthy period of time. The game also relies on a rather simple control scheme, with a jump button and a grab button being the only things necessary to complement basic character movement.
The puzzles are fairly simple. There's nothing here that requires you travel long distances to get materials to solve them, and nothing is so illogical that you'll need to look up the solution in an FAQ. In fact, that's what makes the game feel rewarding despite the relative lack of brain teasers in every environment. All of the solutions are apparent if you take the time to think them through, and that sort of logical thinking is always welcome in a genre where nonsense can be the only answer.
Of course, you will be dying quite a bit while trying to discover these solutions. There's some brutality to each demise, whether it's getting your neck snapped by a guard dog or getting zapped by an electrical tether, but nothing is gruesome for the sake of being gruesome. Likewise, each demise doesn't feel cheap, since they're used to show that you have your limits and that you haven't correctly solved the puzzle. It feels fair, oddly enough, and not frustrating enough to make you quit in anger.
Since the puzzles don't take forever to solve and there's no combat to speak of, Inside relies heavily on moments to drive the player forward, and it does a great job at that. It's good enough that you'll keep playing because you can't wait to see what happens next. Each scene offers up intriguing and tense moments, such as swimming while being chased or trying to hide from light-equipped robots. A few puzzles are pretty humorous, such as one where you guide tiny creatures to a machine, so they can safely push something above you. Even one of the more mundane things, like standing in line, becomes exciting due to the consequences involved should you fail. Even though the game is rather short, there are enough moments like this to make you not care about the length of gameplay.
The only complaint that one will find is the same as Limbo: there isn't much reason for exploration. Though the title is linear by nature and making the game more open could harm the narrative, there are parts where you're allowed to go off the beaten path for a bit. Those areas lead to glowing metal orbs that can be destroyed for Achievements. Truthfully, they don't harm the game, and their inclusion is nice for those who want to prolong the experience or give themselves a goal for a second playthrough, but it is worth pointing out for those wondering whether or not they should try and hunt them down the first time around.
Graphically, the game remains hauntingly beautiful while it embraces a bit more color in its palette. It doesn't go for a full-on color explosion, and what you see is certainly muted, but it is more than just blacks and grays. Characters animate well, but their design is still artistic, as they look normal overall minus the blank faces. The environments really sell you on the game, as little details like raindrops and puffs of dust accentuate the otherwise bleak atmosphere of each place. From ruined farms to giant warehouses to flooded and collapsed facilities, the starkness of each locale gets to you enough that even the offices start to look lively despite the absence of people.
The sound, however, follows the team's first title almost identically. With no voices to help prop things up, it is left to the music and sound effects to carry the game, and you'll notice that the music does its part by being absent almost all the time. The lack of songs increases the title's eerie feeling to the point where any melody amplifies the suspense. Meanwhile, the effects are excellent, since they are used for just about everything. The opening of big metallic doors and splashes of water are accompanied by the audible breaths taken after a big chase or the falls from great heights that don't result in death.
Inside shows that Playdead has a knack for the short but powerful puzzle-platformer. The puzzles are logical and challenging, while the story is told well without a reliance on the usual things like dialogue and cut scenes. The balance between both creates a game that has a ton of memorable moments, and the flow is smooth enough that you're compelled to keep playing until you reach the thought-provoking ending. With a presentation that adds greatly to the narrative, Inside is well worth your time.
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