Once again you are a nameless, faceless child that is trying to navigate through a world of puzzles and intense decision-making moments to survive.
Immediately upon opening, the player is greeted with the familiar ethereal feel that was captured by the developer Playdead's previous release of Limbo. The game presents itself as a challenge of instincts. There is no backstory or preamble to warn the player of the dangers that lie ahead. Instead, quick wit and fingers are needed to navigate through this shadowy world that surrounds you. This side-scrolling game has a limited interactive quality that makes you rely more on your own cleverness to figure out the puzzles and progress, rather than just happening to wander into the right answer.
The opening scene presents an immense, dark forest, brimming with secrets and hidden danger.
Immediately you begin to see the aesthetic develop into something altogether different. As foreshadowed by the name, INSIDE takes place largely inside. Playdead has moved from the bleak black and white of outside to the dreary gray of the inside. Gone are the muted colors of LIMBO. Gone are the horrific entities that lurk in the dark unknown of nature. In its place is a large sense of oppression that settles on the screen as you steadily move from wilderness, to rural, to urban. Once in the city proper, the full scale of INSIDE is revealed. Part of the appeal of H.P. Lovecraft’s work is the realization of how insignificant humanity is in the face of the unfathomable Old Gods and how futile our efforts are to grasp them. We are too small, too simple to face the truth about reality. INSIDE doesn’t have the Old Gods, who will break reality if summoned, but it does have an inexplicably gargantuan, partly underwater metropolis with entire areas that sometimes break the laws of physics. The sheer scale of the city is awe-inspiring and terrifying. As you are almost always the smallest object on the screen, the atmosphere conveyed makes it seem like you are going to be lost forever.
Despite the lack of text or dialogue, the beautiful visuals convey the immediate concerns of the character and leaves the ambiguous nature of the story up for debate after avoiding certain death is achieved. Of particular note is the lighting and its effect on your surroundings. Seeing the dust become unsettled as you run past a band of light, or the flashlights of the enemies bobbing with their running highlighting the path ahead, and the lifeline that is the light you’re given during the underwater sequence, highlighting the civilization that was. The sound effects are spartan but expertly placed. I found myself turning off everything in my room in order to hear anything that might alert me to any danger. What is especially gratifying about the aesthetics is the feelings they invoked. You know you have to avoid these enemies, but you don’t know why. I found myself always wondering why I was running and avoiding these things. Why had this society become so radically different from what was once something similar to our own? Why was this massive urban area in such disrepair? Being a historian I often find myself more interested in the backstory than the story, but I feel these questions accentuate the mystery of INSIDE and it’s what left me wanting to explore the game more.
The gameplay is straightforward.
Keep moving to the right until you are forced to do otherwise, usually to avoid an enemy/trap or solve a puzzle. Another highlight of the game was the animations of the boy. He ‘feels’ real, with animations that give his controls a nice tight feel, which in turn make the puzzles entertaining. Unfortunately, they became repetitive after realizing the same solution worked for most of them. The puzzles themselves were rather simple and spread thin. Without saying too much, they were not very challenging and none took longer than several minutes to work out with the notable exception of a jumping puzzle that was rather frustrating. While this can be considered a negative aspect, I enjoyed the overall lack of pressure to progress. Experiencing the world Playdead has created was a real treat.
INSIDE is labeled a Puzzle-Platformer. While it does have those elements, I think Story-Adventure is a better description. Despite having few puzzles or anything really challenging, I found myself thoroughly enjoying every minute of INSIDE. From the chases, to the utter “WTF” moments (and there are several, I leave you to discover them), to the beautiful urban decay, I honestly liked INSIDE better than LIMBO. In my attempt to be objective as possible I would not recommend this game to everyone. It is one of those games that if you love you love, and if you don’t like it you think anyone who does is just weird.
INSIDE is a wonderful experience and I would recommend it if you can see yourself enjoying a sacrifice in gameplay for a memorable journey, with a bit of “WTF did I just do” thrown in for good measure.