Atmospheric, dark and creepy – 2010’s LIMBO is easily one of the finest examples of immersive, puzzle driven platformer gameplay. Six years on, the developers Playdead have returned with a new offering – INSIDE. With a larger budget and a few extra years to work on their latest project, INSIDE is finally out in the open. So now, the only question is – can it escape LIMBO’s long shadow or will it be doomed by the success and expectations of its critically acclaimed spiritual forbearer? I guess we better find out…
INSIDE begins in a dark woodland with a young boy. With no idea who he is or how he got there, we move forward to discover he is being actively hunted, with flashlight toting guards and guard dogs attempting to track him down and our only option is to press off into the awaiting world whist avoiding them. This early section of the game really builds up a sense of foreboding, palpable tension and sets a dark tone for the game which only evolves as the boy progresses through the successive areas solving puzzles, narrowly avoiding enemies and experiencing Playdead’s meticulously crafted world.
Coming from the same developer, it is difficult not to compare INSIDE to LIMBO as it runs a large number of parallels with the previous title. The same, simple but effective two button control scheme returns and with it players can either perform jumps or interact with objects in the environment to solve environmental puzzles. The main character is incredibly fragile and will die often, usually in quite violent and unexpected, drawn out ways. Even the visuals are similar with a washed out appearance that whilst not full greyscale, have the same impersonal, ominous effect that LIMBO created.
Whilst there are most certainly similarities between the two, INSIDE successfully tweaks the LIMBO formula in several interesting and clever ways in order to form its own unique identity. Whilst LIMBO featured quite a lot of platforming and deadly traps in the environment requiring timing and precision, INSIDE focuses more on its puzzle solving more than anything else, but when it comes to hazards it provides much more active hazardous elements – gone are LIMBO’s spinning saw blades and spike pits and in their place: guards, spotlights and vicious dogs. It’s a good fit.
INSIDE is a puzzle platformer at its core and one that is constantly evolving in front of you. The game is consistently bringing up new mechanics, tricky puzzles and clever new elements to keep a fresh feeling throughout. Puzzles often require new approaches each time around and whether that be controlling groups of Zombie like creatures, piloting a submarine, hiding from patrols in plain sight or figuring out how to gain yourself a little extra time to escape an oncoming group of guard dogs each feels unique and that it fits nicely in the overall package. Perhaps INSIDE’s greatest strength lies in the fact that its puzzles are excellent and often inspired, but unlike most games, the best ones are never repeated, making them all the more memorable.
The game’s pacing is also sublime with the gameplay moving back and forth regularly between tension-filled enemy encounters in which you’ll need to hide or run during heart pounding chase sequences and slower, more deliberate areas where players will be tasked with solving environmental puzzles. It’s a pace that will keep players constantly on the edge of their seats and invested in the game and its persistent challenges until the credits roll.
INSIDE’s presentation is excellent with faded out visuals, interesting contrasts and the presence of increasingly strange elements in the background that go a long way in pushing forth the title’s narrative. The audio is likewise impressive with minimal sound design punctuated by the sounds of machinery, background noises of dogs on the prowl and the occasional rush of music to perfectly build tension in the right places and complement the boy’s sense of isolation from the world he is exploring. Together the visuals and audio create a sombre, foreboding atmosphere that suitably matches the game’s world which simultaneously is both haunting and horrific, yet oddly captivating.
If there is any criticism to be had with INSIDE is that it is a little short. The title will take around 3-5 hours to play through the first time around but thanks to the superior quality of the title, this is forgivable – even more so considering that once the title gets its hooks into players early on, after the first few minutes it becomes unputdownable until it draws to a close. Therein lies its second issue – the game ends… And I wish it wouldn’t. INSIDE goes out on a high note, leaving more questions than answers and leaves the player chomping at the bit for more.
Overall INSIDE is a phenomenal game and although it is fairly short, it is engrossing, dark and every bit as macabre and rewarding as LIMBO. I had very high expectations going into INSIDE and it exceeded them in every way. Playdead have proven that LIMBO was not a fluke and their latest masterpiece INSIDE is one of the best indie titles released in years and sits comfortably near the top of the pile when it comes to the best games released so far this generation.
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