Available On: Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Official Site: Playdead
Release Date: June 29th, 2016
Where To Buy: Xbox Live, Microsoft Store
Five years is a long development cycle for any game with the likes of GTA and The Elder Scrolls exercising this luxury to create their hugely diverse worlds. In this regard, it may seem odd that Playdead, the team behind the mysterious Limbo, have taken the same approach with their next project. Inside is not an open-world, seemingly endless RPG but a haunting platformer which will take around four hours to complete. So why have we waited so long for Inside? Development issues? Performance problems? Neither, as the duration has been spent meticulously crafting every aspect of the game to perfection, ultimately creating my favorite game of 2016 thus far.
Although Inside is unrelated to Limbo, there are similarities between the two. Inside is an environmental 2D platformer but to leave the description as just that would be a huge disservice to what Inside really is. You will run, jump and move objects akin to others in the genre yet these are not the defining qualities of Inside; Story, atmosphere, and intricate detailing are far more appropriate.
Firstly the narrative, which considering there is no dialogue within the game, is wonderfully compelling. Story spoilers would ruin the experience for you so I will avoid too much detail but exquisite pacing and variety had my partner and me literally sitting on the edge of our chairs. At times we were shocked, terrified and occasionally jubilant.
Inside wastes, no time with futile options as it averts the need of controls variations and screen configurations; instead is simply begins with a button press as a young boy in a red sweater, consumed in a world dominated by shadows, descends from dense shrubbery.
As you progress through a haunting forest, your red garment gleaming like a beacon for anyone or anything to find you Inside quickly teaches you the basics of platforming. It is not long before the eerie calmness becomes unsettled and you begin to question what is unfolding on screen. Menacing men with harrowing masks shine their torches through the branches whilst the echoes of barks from ravenous dogs ricochet between the trees. Are they looking for you? What have you done?
Regardless of their true purpose, which could be interpreted in many ways, they are not fond of you. If they catch a glimpse, they will pursue you and overpower you, dragging your unconscious body towards their vehicles. The canines are less delicate as they feast on your body like a chew toy, tearing you apart in a horrifying fashion. The trepidation I felt due to my characters vulnerability when combined with this disturbing reality is unlike anything I’ve felt in a game. As you progress further and you discover new, equally disturbing surroundings, I never felt settled which compelled me throughout the entire adventure.
Whilst the story contains no dialogue, much like a painting, imagery can say far more than words ever could. Inside is gorgeous and it achieves this with an extremely limited pallet. Colour is embraced as a luxury and used only when needed. Aside from your attire, you will witness splashes of hue within a flock of innocent ducklings or the warmth from a flaming torch. These grab your attention and provide environmental clues to progress. As I touched upon earlier, every detail is attentively deliberate. Whereas Limbo was a 2D platformer, Inside feels truly 3D to the extent, I felt as though I was watching an actual three-dimensional presentation. Events occur in the distance such as disturbing marches of mindless humans whilst in the foreground, tree stumps, and other obstacles add a layer of separation between you and the child in red. Subtle panning movements by the camera add a genuine depth to proceedings without realizing it, allowing the environments to possess an intimidating scale. Some locales loom alarmingly around your character inducing the challenge of the task ahead.
Alongside the breathtaking environments, the manipulation of light and the particle effects are stunning too. As shadows are integral to the ominous tone, this can only be achieved through precise lighting. Enemies will descend upon you from the horizon as their terrifying silhouettes engulf you. Delving underwater plays a big part within Inside and once more, the attention to detail is staggering. The light refracts as it hits the surface whilst small pieces of debris illuminate beneath the water. As the depths of the water stifle out the light, a mysterious darkness looms beneath you concealing potential threats.
All of this hard work would be wasted if your character overlooked the ambiance, especially without words being spoken; however, the animations convey the needed emotion of the young boy. From the initial reveal, as he clambers down from the rising, you can see from his undignified landing that he has been running for a reason. As you use obstacles for cover, he will cower cautiously from the edges to evade pursuers. During occurrences in the distance, he cannot suppress his childish curiosity as he stares over his shoulder or looks back at a near death experience he barely survived. The yellow ducklings I mentioned early cower away from his footsteps, only to regroup around you when you stand still. All of these motions are elegantly fluid just like a precise stroke with an artistic brush. The final twenty minutes of the game, without going into detail, could be the most technically impressive display of animation and physics I’ve seen in a game and that is precisely why Inside took five years to be completed.
Do not be fooled into thinking Inside is purely a thrill for the senses as the gameplay and puzzles are ingenious, logical and fruitful. Mind control is a prominent theme within Inside and puzzles utilize this mechanic as you don a contraption on your head, allowing other bodies to mimic your movements. Although simple tasks greet you early on, these mechanics evolve organically with extremely challenging puzzles appearing later still embracing these laws. Hidden orbs are located throughout the game which can be found by spotting a stray yellow wire in this black world. These puzzles are the most daunting with one particular orb asking me to fend off a gang of rabid dogs with nothing more than an aflame stick.
Once I had finished the game, much like its predecessor, the conclusion is open to interpretation. Very few games leave me speechless when they conclude yet Inside did exactly that. As the credits began, I dared not touch the controller for fear of missing something of vital importance. Did that really just happen? The beauty of being a condensed experience was that I finished the game in one sitting and cannot think of a piece of art which has encapsulated my attention more. I began to think back over all the actions I had seen or committed, questioning everything. Do not think of a four-hour experience being an injustice to the player as a perfectly crafted shorter experience is far more preferable than a ten-hour forgettable one.
Playdead has created another masterpiece. Inside is perhaps the most technically fluid gaming experience I’ve encountered which prevented my attention being distracted by trivial issues. How a story can be so compelling without a single word spoken is a challenge I thought impossible. Inside created the world I both feared and enjoyed. I hope that other studios can learn that four hours of perfection can be enough to justify a longer development time because, against some impressive titles so far this year, Inside has been my favorite.
Thoughts? Questions? Think we’ve missed something? Let us know in the comments section below, and remember to stay tuned to The Nerd Stash for all your comic, movie and gaming news!
- Gameplay: Fluid Platforming With Thoughtful Puzzles
- Graphics: Incredible Animations and Beautiful Use of Colour
- Sound: No Dialogue Creates An Ominous World
- Presentation: Crafted To Perfection
- Flawless Presentation
- Logical Puzzles
- Compelling World
An Englishman living in Australia. I edit and provide video/written reviews for all of the latest games.