Inside is a difficult game to discuss. With a length of only 4 hours or so, there’s little enough game that it’s hard to mention anything without it being a potentially huge spoiler. And when talking about a game receiving this level of critical acclaim, reaching the upper echelons of Metacritic within the first few days of release, there’s a paramount sense of importance in avoiding spoiling anything. Inside has in fact produced a fascinating contradictory response where people are desperate to talk about how good it is but when pressed cannot bring themselves to actually say anything for fear of spoiling any part of the experience.
Experience really is the best way to describe the game. While not going so far as to be the sort of “interactive story” being put forward by companies like Telltale, the approach of Inside is very much one focused on the atmosphere rather than hugely overt mechanics. With just three controls, Playdead have taken the foundation they laid with Limbo and built it into what is very nearly a masterpiece. Near monochromatic, 2.5D sidescrolling with a heavy horror element and a combination of puzzle and platforming element, Playdead’s team have nailed what makes their games so very much their own.
At its best, this is a game that utilises simplicity of gameplay to tremendous effect, focusing in on establishing what mechanics it has as incredibly solid and surrounding them with chillingly beautiful art. Moving between various hideous deaths and fascinatingly played out puzzles, all wonderfully integrated with Martin Stig Andersen’s superb soundtrack, Inside moves along at a near perfect pace, the momentum constantly keeping you moving through scene after scene of bizareness and horror. There’s too much spoiler potential attached to describing scenes in detail but suffice it to say that water levels hold all the panic that they do in other games, the presence of chickens is pleasantly absurd and the physics of this game can sometimes be truly madcap.
At worst, Inside suffers from a slight disconnect between the player and the story. With no dialogue or narration, essentially no exposition of any kind, you are forced to work out what is going on entirely on your own. While this mystique lends a certain fascination to proceedings, it also has the unfortunate consequence of placing a layer of separation between the player and the character/story that can result in a feeling of witnessing rather than playing. For some this may work, for others, not so much.
This is ultimately a true work of game craft. In turns beautiful and monstrous, Inside underpins a haunting experience with solid gameplay and beautiful art.The puzzles may not be mindblowing but they do require a certain level of thoughtfulness, often accompanied by a death or two, and they operate within bounds of incredibly solid gameplay and superbly smooth animations. More than worthy as a spiritual successor to Limbo, Playdead have succeeded in expanding upon their established stylistic with a game that pushes the aesthetic and mechanical elements they had previously established, into new realms.
I don’t really know whether it would be correct to say I enjoyed Inside. Enjoyed somehow doesn’t seem like quite the right word for what this game is. Instead it would be better to say that I appreciated the hell out of this game and the experience it put me through. I don’t know exactly what happened or what it was about, I’m not quite sure what I felt except for certain moments of abject terror, but I do know that Inside is four hours of something all right. What that something is, will be largely up to you and how you read the strange and sinister events of this strange and superb game.