Inside is the second game from Limbo developer Playdead, and anyone who played Limbo will see a lot of similarities. From the minimalist, monotone aesthetic to the 2D puzzles and the lone boy in a silhouetted world, Inside could be described as Limbo 2.0.
The game begins with a boy dropping into a scene from stage left, as it were. We’re in a wood, there are men with torches and dogs and they are looking for you. Walk right and the boy comes across a scene of passive humans being loaded onto trucks, which then drive off. The boy follows on foot.
This is all we know, when Inside begins. There is a boy and he is hiding from the men who are taking people away in lorries, but he is also following the trucks for some unknown reason. Is it a rescue or is he just trying to stop it? Inside offers us a bleak, Orwellian world, in contrast to the Hansel and Gretel lost-in-the-woods dynamic that occupied much of Limbo.
Playdead has obviously put a lot more time and resources into Inside, probably, as a result of Limbo’s success. The graphics are more detailed, creating a haunting, abandoned and industrial world. Although, we begin in a wood, much of Inside takes place err…inside a mysterious facility, populated by clip-board bearing lab assistants and bureaucrats. If they see you, it’s game over, as they run towards the boy and restrain him or choke him, it’s not quite clear.
Inside is a clever little puzzler and although it tested me, I don’t think it would present much of a challenge for hardened puzzle fans. That said, the puzzles are pleasing. Just as Limbo did, Inside offers no tutorial or dialogue of any kind. There are no hints, other than through storytelling.
The boy can interact with objects by pulling pushing and climbing. However, the game world adds interesting objects and puzzle dynamics within the world. For instance, some blocks feature a time-release jet of air, sending the box into the air and allowing you to reach higher levels. And as the game progresses, puzzles expect you to build on things you’ve learnt along the way. In later puzzles, you may need to use two of these boxes at once or use the jet capability in other ways.
The passive humans we see at the beginning of the game are not merely a goal – something to rescue or release. They are a central game mechanic too. These mindless, almost zombified figures can be controlled by the boy. Strange helmets are suspended from the ceiling in various areas. If he jumps into the helmet, he is then suspended in mid-air and the mindless figures come to life and respond to he boy’s movement commands. The mindless can then be used to access new areas and solve puzzles, using their greater number and strength to the boy’s advantage.
Inside also uses physics to great effect and it is sometimes a joy to behold, especially in the later portion of the game, which I can’t describe without committing major spoilers. However, much of the game is spent either in or under water. These are some of the most rewarding and frustrating levels and offer more timing and lever puzzles, as well as a submersible vehicle for variety.
The sound design is also worth noting and reminded me of Ico. The slap of the little boy’s feet and his gasp when he stumbles. Then, when you escape a pursuer by the skin of your teeth, the boy’s breathing makes you live every moment. The sound plays a key role in Inside, keeping the tension and helping you solve puzzles in this minimalist game.
I love the way Inside plays with your expectations and injects humour into an otherwise bleak world. The mindless humans groan and shamble after you, tumbling over obstacles and then, sometimes the physics is flipped on its head and you stop and smile, making Inside a game worth playing for those moments alone.
There’s a lot to like about Inside, but it is short and for £14.99/$19.99, that’s an expensive few hours of playing. Although I don’t think a game should be valued in minutes and hours alone, there’s just not enough depth to Inside to make me want to play it again, so it’s quite a pricey one-shot.
There is an ‘alternative’ ending, which you open, if you collect certain objects, hidden around the game. I didn’t do this, but I did catch the ending on YouTube and didn’t think it was worth the trouble.
Then there’s the story, which features a sharp switch towards the end. This game does not end how you expect it to – I can guarantee that. The whole story is ambiguous. Nothing is fully explained, only implied and then the ending throws all your theories and expectations out of the window. It’s not a cheap trick, though, it’s just a surprise and that’s not something you get very often with games.
I really enjoyed the unexpected ending and the ambiguity of the whole world, but then I like David Lynch and Kafka and Inside shares aspects of both of those. If you like stories that are tied up in neat bows by the end, then Inside will probably frustrate you. But if you can handle some mystery then Inside is well worth your time. It’s not a masterpiece, but if you haven’t played Limbo, just play Inside instead because it’s like the best version of Limbo – a perfect, atmospheric little puzzler.