INSIDE Review — The Art of the Game

on September 8, 2016 8:00 AM

Immediately after picking up Playdead’s Inside, I was instantly reminded of Limbo – a game six years Inside‘s senior. And while saying a game feels similar to its far-older predecessor is generally a slight against a new release, the opposite is true regarding Inside. With a vague narrative, excellent environmental storytelling and clever gameplay, the dark indie-platformer should be on the short list for any person that supports games as art.

As I mentioned above, Inside starts much like Limbo – no context or story is given to who or where you are. Instead you find the protagonist, a dimly-lit boy with a red shirt, doing his best to progress forward and evade the ominous perils lurking all-around.

What I will say is that the story is thought provoking and the ending will leave you puzzled, likely heading to comment sections or YouTube explanations looking for an answer. The journey along the way feels both adventurous and terrifying — even if you aren’t the biggest fan of where the game ends, the three to four hour expedition makes the game worthwhile.

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And that is truly the most I’m willing to go into the story. While the whole thing is rather dark, vague, and ambiguous, some of the best parts of the game is finding new sections, figuring out the story from what is happening around you, and trying to interpret the meaning behind it. If you are already interested, you should go in as blind as possible.

Storytelling is told through far more than the environments – even the subtle changes of movements from the protagonist instill various emotions, be it dread, excitement, or fear. If you are a person able to appreciate nuance in game design and visualization, Inside and Playdead’s tireless efforts are a treat.

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The gameplay feels at times ripped right out of Limbo, and that’s okay. The majority of the in-game mechanics circulate around moving, pushing/pulling and jumping mapped to two buttons and a thumbstick.

Thanks to some new puzzle mechanics uses liberally throughout Inside, the game never feels stagnant or tiresome. With a steady difficulty ramp and puzzles that are intuitive, you will never find yourself restarting a checkpoint more than once or twice. This leads to a game with a consistently even flow, making for a great one-sitting title.

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Specifically, and oft-used mechanic is one where you use a mind-control device to control anywhere from one to ten other people. While controlling multiple copies of a character isn’t new to puzzle games, Inside uses the mechanic in a smart and intuitive way, that ties back to the story meaningfully.

Nothing about the game feels arbitrary or out-of-place — no puzzles feel shoe-horned in for the sake of offering more puzzles, but instead feel like natural extensions of the environment. The naturalness of everything, and how well the setting merges with the puzzles is a testament to both the game design and the ability of Playdead Studios to craft a believable world — even with unbelievable things happening in the backdrop.

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Along the journey, players can scour the map for hidden locations and puzzles that offers brief but engaging replayability.  Without a guide, I was able to hit nearly 90% of those puzzles in standard playthrough – meaning I eventually went back to get the rest, and to see a hidden ending connected with it.

Inside isn’t without its downsides. Like I’ve already said, the ending will leave some people feeling anticlimactic or in need of resolution. Additionally, the game is a mere three or four hours long, even including doubling back to grab collectables. For a $20 game, this may be well outside of some people’s budget.

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With that mentioned, I still heavily recommend this game for everyone. While it won’t be a substantive experience that will give you “bang for their buck,” it makes that up in artistic merit. While obviously darker in tone, a quick parallel I would make to it is Journey. It’s a game for someone who appreciates the art of video games.

Inside won’t be for everyone, and likely will never carry the prestige that Limbo garnered years ago. However, it is a game made for those able to appreciate the nuance and artistry behind game design and building atmosphere. Though short, Inside is an amazing one-sitting gameplay experience for enthusiasts and indie-lovers that frankly should not be missed, no matter where you play it.

 /  Editor-in-Chief
Lou Contaldi is the Editor-in-Chief at DualShockers, specializing in both reviews and the business behind gaming. He began writing about tech and video games while getting his Juris Doctor at Hofstra University School of Law. He is maybe the only gaming journo based in Nashville, TN.