Being such a short, and relatively cheap experience, I’d like to begin by saying that Inside is best played with as little information going in as possible. So as an absolutely super brief review, you hold the left thumbstick at varying degrees to the right for most of the game while jumping, grabbing, dragging or moving objects; there’s no talking or explicit directions given; there’s lots of easy environmental puzzles, and what little there is, is beautifully put together - but I found the endings to be a tad lackluster. However, despite my final reaction, I’d say it’s totally worth the price of entry.
With that said, here is my full no-spoiler review:
“What on Earth did I just play?!”
These are the shocked, confused, and somewhat awed words that flowed from my mouth the moment I realized developer PlayDead’s latest game, Inside, had ended. Filled with a number of surprises, it isn’t bad – not by a long shot – there’s just not much there. What is, leaves much to interpretation within an incredibly simple, but beautifully realized environmental puzzle title.
Inside is a highly condensed, masterfully compiled - if a little easy – experience, with a playtime of about three to four hours. On the downside, unless you dig deeper and add a healthy dose of speculation, it feels more like an interactive metaphor rather than a well-crafted narrative, which left me feeling quite unsatisfied with either of the title’s endings.
Coming from the minds that brought us Limbo, Inside is an astounding evolution from that title. The game oozes with polish, atmosphere, and wonder, while hinting that it’s set in a post apocalyptic (possibly still at war) world. Like it’s spiritual predecessor, there’s no explicit narrative. The story is told entirely by interpreting the environment, what’s going on in the backgrounds, and by taking a closer look at the situations the player’s unnamed young male avatar get’s himself into.
As mentioned at the start, you really only have basic control over the character. Lightly hold the left thumb-stick to walk, hold all the way to run. Then there are two interaction buttons - one jumps, the other holds on-to things, and if movable, you are then able to manipulate them by moving in the appropriate direction.
With these simple controls, Inside lets you interact with the world in order to complete the title’s simple environmental puzzles. Throughout the entire game, I only really had to sit and ponder, or conduct multiple trial-and-error attempts on two or three puzzles, so I’ve no doubt most people will be able to breeze through the game with little difficulty.
Despite there being no in-your-face on-screen tutorial, Inside manages to effectively teach players the game rules through the use of said trial-and-error, along with generous checkpoints, and reasonably fast load times. This is all combined with some of the best 2D character animations I’ve ever seen - many being contextually designed to help players know the dangers of each area. Though the models themselves are rather basic, the way they move and emote is astounding.
The boy you play as will instinctively crouch behind walls when guards are nearby, make large heavy movements when wading through water, and will both look and sound exhausted after running for long periods. This is all nothing compared to the numerous, and occasionally disturbing, ways in which he can lose his life. Fortunately it all goes towards reinforcing the creepy, dangerous, and mysterious atmosphere exuded by the game.
To help sell the mood, PlayDead have opted for a minimalist colour palette. However, unlike Limbo, this time they’ve added a little colour to the mix. Not a lot – mostly varying shades of grey, and a little red or light cream here and there – but it’s usually to draw the player’s attention. This is a very dark, very sombre world, and one could easily mistake much of it as a story set during the Holocaust, or a scene in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”.
Working in tandem with the art style are the complementary camera pans that are used. By subtly zooming in and out, or tilting a fraction in a very cinematic way, the game manages to show the world, scenes, and environments off in a way many other 2D side-scroller would never think to. It almost allows for there to be in-game miniature cut-scenes without actually having any - especially in a game that leaves so much of the story up for interpretation.
Speaking of the story, what’s actually going on? Who is this kid and what is he doing? Is it a parallel to the real world, exploring themes in modern society? Honestly, I’ve no firm idea, and the game isn’t exactly willing to out-right tell players. After finishing the game, collecting all of the reasonably easy to find collectibles, and experiencing the secret ending, I can say I’m unsatisfied with both endings – despite the interesting twists the unlockable one may hint at.
This is actually my main gripe with the title. I was having an enjoyable experience with a game that felt like each screen had been meticulously hand-crafted, and then, after several truly awesome moments, the entire game falls flat on it’s face in literally the final minute. I managed to get all the way to the end on a high, and was left completely unfulfilled, almost cheated out of a satisfying ending.
Then I work my way through to discover the hidden ending, and once again I find only disappointment. No true, understandable ending - at least not one I personally find makes sense given the world that’s set up, and I’m left with a hole where a portion of my enjoyment for the game had been. That’s not to say I had a bad time with Inside, quite the contrary - there are more than enough cool moments that make it worth the pittance of its asking price – but the endings left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth, and that’s a sad thing to say about such an otherwise immaculately put together title.
To sum everything up, should you buy and play PlayDead’s Inside? Yes. It’s cheap, it’s short, it’s fun, and I found the simple puzzles made me feel smart due to how quickly I blitzed through them. The beautifully realized, limited colour-palette world is interesting, creepy, scary, and bizarre, and delightfully oozing with atmosphere. Despite the endings disappointing me overall, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with Inside up until the final moments.
Play this game - I’ve no doubt myself and many others will be discussing what it all meant for years to come.