Some would say that it was game back in 2010 called LIMBO that really broke open the indie scene in the gaming industry. It started as a Xbox Live Arcade exclusive but has spread like wildfire to other platforms over the years due to its popularity and critical acclaim. Despite LIMBO being released on new platforms, nothing else has come from the studio behind LIMBO until now. INSIDE is the long awaited second game from indie developer Playdead. It’s another two to three hour side-scrolling experience that has you solving puzzles throughout. If you played LIMBO (I don’t know how you wouldn’t have by now), you know what to expect, but that is definitely not a bad thing.
I find when puzzle games are done right they can be extremely clever and satisfying to play. INSIDE managed to find that perfect formula. The game evolved with a number of mechanics being introduced throughout. Yes, you would reuse mechanics, but I never felt Playdead was being lazy in the development of their puzzles. Another important thing is to not make puzzles impossibly difficult and that did not happen here. In addition, I never felt they were too easy either. A perfect example of this comes in a puzzle that happens about halfway through the game. There is an elevator that takes you to three different levels with passages and rooms on both sides of the elevator on each floor. Coming into this puzzle, I thought I was going to be completely overwhelmed, but as I explored, it became apparent what I would have to do, I just had to figure out how to do it. That makes you feel good as a player and I was extremely satisfied with the puzzle design. There are even 13 secret areas that are scattered around the course of the game that are even harder to get to for those who like to explore or looking for a harder challenge.
INSIDE also didn’t have to tell me how to play the game which is surprisingly unique for games today. It instead had me die again and again and again. There wasn’t a death where I felt cheated. Actually, I believe I learned something from every death. It’s the classic Super Mario Bros way of teaching a game which I appreciate. Also, the deaths built the world around you too. In the very beginning of the game I saw people standing next a vent of some kind. I tried running past them and was shot instantly. With that, I learned I can’t run past them and these people are bad guys. This is a unique way to build the world that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
The world and narrative are married to each other in this game because of the way INSIDE tells its story using the settings. The world was cool to see and explore in some instances. There was a dystopian feeling of – what the hell is going on here – which brings me to the narrative. I have one thing to say about it. It’s something. This isn’t a bad thing though. Actually, I really liked it. It’s just that the game took major turns in plot development that were bizarre from what I was expecting. The bizarre plot turns kept me interested though. I never had the feeling of just wanting to get through this game. If anything, I wanted to get through a puzzle that I may have taken some time on to see what would happen next. There are at least three events in the game where I said something along the lines of “WTF!” or “OMG!”. Those scenes usually introduced a new mechanic to the puzzle solving so when they happened, I kept wanting to play for more story as well as more puzzles. The narrative didn’t make sense for me in the end. Although I have a couple of theories about what happened/what it all means. Overall though, the story did a great job of keeping the controller in my hand wanting to see this game through to the end.
For as much as the game relied on its setting to tell the story the look of the game is really good as well. It’s mostly going to be shades of blues and greys in the areas you end up going to, but unlike LIMBO there are dashes of color in this game. The colors that are in the game are not the most vivid or saturated colors. Instead, they are more on the pale side to blend in nicely to the main aesthetic of the game. For as much as INSIDE feels like LIMBO in gameplay, it’s nice to see the art style change to convey the different themes this game is going for.
INSIDE delivers a big punch for a game that can be completed in one play session. The puzzles are cleverly designed. The art style is unique and well polished. The narrative is intriguing despite the weird plot turns, especially at the end. LIMBO gave me expectations for Playdead’s next game and they delivered on them in a big way.