Last year I wrote about a game called LIMBO, an indie platformer that I really enjoyed. So did critics and gamers as it earned rave reviews and was ported to several different platforms and consoles. The sales and support allowed developer Playdead, a small independent studio based in Denmark, to begin work on a second project, and INSIDE is the result of six years work and development. While it benefits from improved graphics and audio that games can now offer in 2016, spiritually it stays true to a lot of the values that made LIMBO such a unique game.
You, the player, control a boy and must keep him away from danger (guards and dogs initially chase him down) while guiding him forward through dangerous and increasingly strange scenes simultaneously beautiful and eerie. Inside’s several similarities to its ‘little brother’ LIMBO include a unique graphical style, a 2D perspective, a minimalist (or, not immediately obvious) story, and very unsettling, creepy undertones. But the experience of Limbo has allowed Playdead to build on their talent of creating disturbing worlds with vague and haunting themes.
The graphics are outstandingly beautiful. Limbo was set in a monochromatic landscape but with Inside the black-and-white environments contain dashes of colour. However there is far more detail on show.T he screens don’t do Playdead’s artistic direction justice. Lighting and particle effects, rippling puddles and dripping water; the level of detail in the varied environments (where you explore farms, factories, offices and science labs) is outstanding. There were times I had to stop to take it all in.
And while I’ve said Inside is a 2D sidescroller, that’s not strictly true. At key moments in the gameplay, the camera will pan to give breathtaking angles of the environment. Movement is still restricted to left and right, up and down, but the depth of the world makes it seem much more grander in scale. Animations are superb all round; the boy runs, jumps and climbs in a way that feels organic and true, and when matched with sounds of his panting and grunts of pain, the need to get him through these ordeals is that much stronger.
Inside initially follows a similar theme to Limbo: a boy needs to find his way through a series of seemingly abandoned environments, avoiding hostile enemies (guards, dogs, other…things) and the hazards around him. These involve circumventing traps and puzzles, some of which really caused me to scratch my head. It’s a short game, but you will die frequently and some of the puzzles require an element of trial and error. As to what the boy is doing here, what he is looking for, and what the hell is going on in this world, I will not even speculate on. There is a message, or a theme, and I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts and interpretations, but I won’t spoil anything here. Inside needs to be experienced, and the less you know the better. I can’t stop thinking about the whole thing.
I said something similar when I wrote about Limbo, but Inside is a piece of interactive art. The dividing lines between a game, a story and art is blurred into something undefinable. Without any words being spoken, Inside is compelling and thought-provoking, subtle and creepy, beautiful and unmissable. It needs to be experienced.