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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: PlayDead Studios
Release Date: June 28, 2018

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Switch Review - 'Inside'

by Andreas Salmen on July 18, 2018 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

Inside is an action-adventure puzzle game where, hunted and alone, a boy finds himself drawn into the center of a dark project.

Buy Inside

Danish indie developer Playdead has done everything right. Its debut project, Limbo, wasn't just a creepily atmospheric and phenomenal puzzle platformer but managed to ride the early wave of indie craziness. The game was hugely successful, and it's probably tough to find anyone who hasn't at least seen it. The studio's follow-up project, Inside, was originally released for all major platforms back in 2016, followed by its appearance on phones and now the Nintendo Switch.

Unsurprisingly, Inside puts us in the shoes of a little boy who's traversing a gritty and unsettling world that presents numerous challenges and dangers at every turn. The setting may be more colorful and detailed than its predecessor, but that doesn't make it cheerful by any standards. While it's not the most hardware-hungry title, it's one that relies entirely on visual and audio cues to tell a story, so toning back the presentation would severely impact the experience. Thankfully, Inside is just as captivating, if not more, on the Switch's small screen.

Reduced to its core mechanics, Inside is a physics-based puzzle platformer. We control a little boy who's being chased by what seems to be heavily armed security personnel. We're outmatched in strength and equipment, so we must keep moving and not get killed. Our journey leads through an abandoned, dangerous countryside until we reach a factory that seems to be responsible for the state of our surroundings. This may sound like an extremely vague description, and it is, because Inside relies heavily on the story while leaving almost everything open to interpretation. There isn't any dialogue, no in-game cut scenes, no text, and not even a single camera cut or loading screen that pulls you out of the experience. It's a cohesive whole, and it works best that way.

Inside's gameplay mechanics and controls are pretty simple: You jump and grab, and that's the extent of it. Inside keeps it simple while simultaneously adding a physical layer and directional input to it. Grabbing and rotating levers and lifting objects are all done intuitively with the press of a button and using the thumbstick for directional movement. The amount and variety of puzzles are limited, but given the game's short run time of approximately three hours, the puzzles are straightforward and aren't brain-teasers.

Since we play as a young boy, the most challenging segments revolve around the fact that we cannot confront enemies but have to outrun them. The game frequently offers you an obvious quick way out, but it's actually the wrong thing to do. This happens pretty often and can result in a few areas where skill isn't really the issue, and trial and error takes over. It makes some portions of the game more tedious, but the overall mix is enjoyable and provides a good pace of action, stress, and relaxed puzzle-solving. Platforming is also excellent. I've played plenty of puzzle platformers that have "floaty" jumping and landing mechanics, but jumping in Inside has a certain weight to it that's much appreciated. This stems from good sound feedback, HD Rumble integration, and excellent animation work.

Everything that I've mentioned up to this point makes Inside a pretty decent puzzle platformer. What makes Inside excel are the additional layers on top that play with feeling, imagination and perception. It nails the feeling that we are indeed a small vulnerable being who's trapped in a horrible futuristic version of our world. We wander through dead environments and are being hunted down. We see the bottomless pit of what seems like an Orwellian society — but it's never told. Everyone may interpret the visuals differently. The most jarring part is the way Inside sells the world to the player. Spaces feel abandoned but realistically so, and every witnessed atrocity or abandoned building feels consequential. Every death is a reminder of the brutality that rages on in this world.

The sound is the other part that makes Inside an atmospheric treat. There's almost no music to be found, so we usually hear accentuated environmental sounds: the huffing of our protagonist, the ground breaking away beneath our feet, barking, and glass splitting into a million shards. It keeps you on the edge and, in combination with its creepy dystopian vision, tells a story without ever uttering a word.

The final piece of the picture is the animation work of our young protagonist: arms flailing in the air when paths become too narrow, rolling after a jump to break the fall, and the visible effort when opening heavy metal doors. The boy endures horrible things and goes through excruciating pain, and it's often visible in slight alterations of animation work. Inside tells a complete story with a tightly interwoven package of animation, audio, and environmental design that make  a decent platformer feel like an incredible one. Couple that with one of the biggest WTF endings in gaming, and you get an experience that easily surpasses the excellent Limbo.

Luckily, the Switch can run the game almost without a single hitch. The ending shows a framedrop or two, but given the on-screen action, it's still very solid. The visuals aren't the best but can be pretty demanding. The Switch doesn't seem to downgrade them too much either in docked or handheld mode, so Inside looks and plays pretty much as you'd hope on the Switch. When played on the small screen with some good headphones, it's an impressive game on a piece of incredible hardware that plays as intended. What else could we want?

With a rich atmosphere, solid puzzles, good platforming, and a story that unravels in your mind as you play Inside is one of indie gaming's best titles. It's short and sweet, and it should be experienced by everyone who loves atmospheric and dystopian narratives.

Score: 9.0/10

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