1984, The Matrix, Resident Evil, Portal, The Hunger Games: If you minimally enjoyed any of those pieces of media, you should stop whatever you are doing and break into Inside. Inside (PS4, Xbox One, PC) is developer Playdead’s sophomore game following their critically acclaimed masterpiece, Limbo. And trust me, Inside fits right into Playdead’s wheelhouse of making dark, deadly, and mysterious nightmare fuel.
Seriously, this game knows that its setting is its strength and plays to it in a miraculous fashion. Each layer of Inside’s secret laboratory hides an even more devious, terrifying, layer beneath it like an onion rotting in Satan’s pantry. Paired along with the minimalistic imagery of the game, the limited music is reserved only for the most exciting of instances.The sound of footsteps echoing through an otherwise silent warehouse will be broken by a spontaneous and sharp crescendo to signify the start of a life-or-death chase scene. When the chase is over, the game returns to silence. Each part of Inside only serves to enhance another aspect of the experience.
Inside, for the unacquainted, is a platforming/puzzle solving game where the player takes control of a boy running from shadowy agents. The boy’s path veers through woodlands, farms, abandoned cities, and aforementioned secret labs. The unique nature of this boy’s journey is that he has no real advantage over his pursuers. He is not strong, he can’t fight, he’s not particularly good at jumping and those are the usual staple characteristics of any adventure game protagonist worth their salt.
Instead, Inside puts you behind the wheel of a fragile character that is limited to running and hiding from any danger encountered. To some this may sound dull, but the most nail biting, pulse pounding moments of the game came from situations where the player escapes by the skin of their teeth. I recommend a towel and antiperspirant on standby while playing this game, because nothing is more sweat inducing than slowly prying 2x4s off of a barricaded door while vicious hounds are seconds away from ripping you to shreds.
After a chase scene, the game will usually transition to a puzzle solving section that will require pushing and pulling scenery, activating switches, and mind control. Not going to spoil much, but there are a few instances of mind control-ception where you control a mind while controlling a different mind… It’ll really blow your mind. Moving on, puzzles are uniquely ingenuitive and demand creativity to derive solutions. Inside also does a nice job of later puzzles building off of what was previously seen, without crossing the line into monotony.
While fundamentally different in execution, the chase and puzzle sections do have one commonality they share, which is swift and gruesome death to signify failure. Oh boy, is there a lot of death. Electrocution, drowning, strangling, falling from tremendous heights are just some of the ways the boy will meet his demise. And this cycle of trial and error was the cause of my only real complaint with the game. It seems a little bizarre that the only way you can avoid death is by experiencing it and then knowing what not to do next time. Thankfully the game is very generous with checkpoints so that frustration never really sets in. However, a long dying streak does make victory that much more sweet, so I guess I can’t really complain that much.
Inside is a worthy successor to Limbo and is easily one of 2016’s greatest achievements (granted that bar isn’t set high).