Aside from a few screenshots, I managed to play Inside completely unspoiled, no trailers or previews. If you’ve managed the same so far, the one spoiler you need to know is if you liked Limbo you should go and play Inside right now.
Developed by Playdead, the studio that created Limbo, Inside is a spiritual successor to the acclaimed platformer, sharing many elements in terms of gameplay, environments and protagonist. Like Limbo you play as a young boy, and that’s all you really know about him. While the platforming genre is quite wide at the moment, particularly with indie developers, Limbo seems to be the only game that can be directly compared to Inside, a testament to Playdead’s craft.
Everything about Limbo is improved with Inside. The platforming and puzzles are more complex, still mostly involving physics, but also adding stealth mechanics and mind control. Inside can have you feel helpless as you run and hide from enemies, to all-powerful as you control groups of people like ‘Pikmin’ to solve a puzzle.
Whenever I felt like I had ‘figured-out’ the game, it would throw something else at me which would turn me on my head. Each encounter with an NPC is precisely crafted, requiring you to perform almost flawlessly in order to survive. Anything involving dogs will have you escaping with their teeth at the soles of your feet. It’s not necessarily a hard game, but if you panic for a moment, you’ll die, either from falling into a pit, being discovered by an enemy, or simply drowning. It didn’t take long for me to panic at the mere sight of water.
With Inside, there aren’t really any bosses, such as Limbo’s giant spider. Though the bosses were some of Limbo’s most memorable moments, they felt like lampposts, as if they were the points that tied the game together. Inside feels better without them, as the game flows from beginning to end, without having to linger around one particular enemy.
There are times where Inside does feel like repeats puzzles or mechanics, particularly those involving dogs. But these moments are few and far between. The vast majority of puzzles left me feeling a sense of accomplishment. Even just a basic physics puzzle, that only required me to pull a lever in time for a cart to reach a connecting platform, managed to make me feel like I had done something worthwhile.
Inside’s art is very simplistic. It’s cel-shaded and uses few colours, instead relying more on shadows and light to add flavour to the environments. Everything is smooth, to the point that the humans don’t even have faces. It’s a beautiful world that summons a subtle feeling of discomfort; coupled with the minimal use of music and sound, Inside creates a sinister atmosphere throughout the game. You’re left on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next surprise. Sometimes the surprise is a relief, like little chicks coming to follow you around. But most surprises will have you running for your life.
Nothing about the narrative is directly told to you. Inside instead relies primarily on its environments and atmosphere to organically reveal its ideas, themes and plot, assuming you think Inside has an actual plot. It’s these elements that really differentiate Inside from Limbo. Compared to Limbo, it’s a bit easier to understand what Inside trying to portray. That is until the final act, where everything just suddenly goes crazy. With Limbo’s sudden ending I was left wondering, ‘what does it mean?’ Whereas the ending to Inside had me thinking, ‘WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED!?’ The entire final act of Inside had me terrified, amused and disgusted, resulting in me constantly laughing like a madman for the final ten minutes. And yet it still managed to be the perfect ending.
Perhaps Inside’s biggest drawback is its short playtime. You can expect to finish the game in less than three and a half hours on your first play-through. Coupled with a $26.95AUD price-tag, I’m sure many people won’t consider this to be the best value for money. But Inside certainly warrants more than one play, and it’s a game that you’ll be thinking about for days and weeks afterwards.
…Seriously, what the fuck happened in the end?