Inside is the follow up release from Playdead, the studio that created the critically acclaimed Limbo back in 2010. An initial look at the game didn’t really excite me as I took it to be nothing more than a clone of Limbo. Four hours and a complete play-through later has left me convinced that this will be remembered as one of the best games of 2016.
Up and running – Inside foregoes the traditional approach used by many games and hits the ground running. There is absolutely no tutorial or intro and you are left to your own devices from the get go. Fortunately there is very little you need to learn. You can move, jump and grab and that is as far as your skill set ever goes. The movement in Inside feels very well balanced and gives you complete confidence that any deaths that occur are solely down to your mistakes as a player. Who you are throughout Inside is also a mystery as there is no explanation as to who the boy is or why you are even playing as him. On the one hand it’s nice to play a game that isn’t bogged down by back story but at the same time the world of inside is so rich and vibrant that I would have happily had a little more narrative added.
Breathtaking beauty – Limbo was a visually captivating game that managed to work wonders with a limited colour palette however Inside surpasses it visually with ease. The 2.5D visuals are absolutely stunning and what I really found impressive was just how varied each section of Inside was. There is still a familiar feel to the visuals with a lack of colour at the start and as you work your way through the game the different landscapes have their own unique tone and feel. The attention to detail in the animation is excellent and helps you really connect to the world and the harsh environments around you. One thing that did catch me by surprise was just how brutal the death sequences were. While they aren’t quite at the level of violence seen in games like Rise of the Tomb Raider they are still pretty brutal. Being set upon by a pack of savage dogs who grab you by the throat and shake you until your body lifelessly ragdolls genuinely shocked me the first time I experienced it, but it also made me try significantly harder to ensure the survival of my character. Getting screenshots to use in this review was an absolute pleasure as I was spoiled for choice; It’s been a long time since I sat idle in a game taking in the surrounding scenery.
The sounds of silence – The visuals in Inside will rightly garner a lot of attention but I actually think that the audio manages to be even better. What is striking about it is that there are large portions of the game that have very little audio at all. Subtle audio cues kick in at sporadic points but for the majority of Inside you are left to hear the various sounds of the world around you. You can hear every footstep you make while machines ominously rumble behind you. Raindrops splash as they impact on the ground while your character will audibly gasp for breath after one of the many chase sequences you’ll encounter. The soundtrack is composed by Martin Stig Andersen who also worked on Limbo and once again he has delivered an exceptional audio experience. Playing this with a good headset is definitely recommended.
Puzzling perfection – A game like Inside lives and dies on the strength of its puzzles. The balance of difficulty and variety here is absolutely perfect. New mechanics are introduced fairly regularly and just as you get to grips with them something else is added that will make you need to re-evaluate the different ways to interact with your surroundings. Some of the puzzles can initially look really daunting but the answer is almost always right in front of you, or no more than a few seconds away. A couple of puzzles took me 10-15 minutes to solve but they were never so frustrating that I felt like giving up and when I finally figured out the solution the sense of achievement was all the more satisfying. The checkpoint system used is also incredibly generous. If you do happen to fail a puzzle and die you restart almost instantly, right by where you met your gruesome demise.
The plot thickens – I’ve tried to avoid writing about what happens in the story of Inside as discovering it all for yourself will definitely make the experience a lot more rewarding. One thing I really recommend that you do is seek out the many collectibles hidden throughout. Some of them are reasonably easy to locate while others are tucked away in very obscure hiding places. Finding all the secrets will give you all 1000 Gamerscore, as well as the opportunity to find an alternate ending if you are resourceful enough. The ending of Inside was already great but the alternate end sequence blew my mind and is definitely worth the extra time.
Very little – Inside does very little wrong in my opinion but there were a couple of things I noticed that I would have changed. The first being I would alter how the achievements are given out. Usually, I am all for an easy Gamerscore but in Inside every achievement is tied to finding a secret collectible. The issue I have with is that you can actually get all the Gamerscore without actually finishing the game and therefore missing one of the best parts of Inside. My only other real issue is that the underwater areas that you need to explore feel a little weak when it comes to the puzzles. They are still well done but compared to the rest of what Inside offers I just felt that these were lacking in pace.
I could talk all day about the various parts of Inside that I liked but to do that would spoil the surprise for the readers yet to play the game. It may be lacking in length but every second you spend playing Inside is a second well spent. The hype behind this release from Playdead is definitely justified and I can easily see this winning a stack of awards when it comes to the end of 2016.
Inside was developed and published by Playdead. It was released on June 29th, 2016. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.
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