Don’t let the title of the article fool you. Inside is one of those genuinely scary games that’s enjoyable to behold, but boy is it weird. In a good way, of course, but weird none the less. Let me explain.
Like their first breakthrough hit Limbo, Playdead has created a dark and sometimes disturbing world for their young protagonist. More importantly, Inside follows the same story progression of its predecessor, in that you begin knowing very little and must solve a number of puzzles to progress through this confusing and strange situation you’ve found yourself within.
The game opens with a young child sliding down a small hill into an overgrown forest. Within these opening moments, it feels a little like a direct sequel to Limbo. You climb over fallen trees and watch as the little child … a boy? It could just as easily be a tomboy, but it’s a he as far as the developers are concerned … fumbles and shivers in the cold night air. Where he’s going and why is left up to the imagination as a few strangers off in the distance appear, tracking your movements and attempting to chase you down.
Once you get past those early parts, getting used to the two button control scheme and understanding some of the early puzzle mechanics, things start to get weirder, the story slowly taking shape. What appears at first to be some kind of a reference to farm or factory turns into a larger cityscape with roaming humans, seemingly not in control of their destination. I won’t explain too much more than that for fear of spoiling it for those of you who haven’t played Inside just yet, but trust me when I say things take an even darker and unusual turn once you reach this strange and foreboding town.
Most of the puzzles you’ll come across are easy enough to get the hang of, again in a similar fashion to what we’ve now come to expect from Playdead. Some require a little thought, others a sneaky flick of a switch and some well timed movements to get from a to b. Again, no spoilers here, but later into the game you’ll come across some intricate and well executed puzzles that also lend themselves a little bit of humour amongst the darkness. Maybe that was just my way of trying to pull something out of the gloom.
I felt attached to my little hero the further I went across the dangerous landscapes, despite the lack of narrative or voiceovers. For every danger I came across, I carefully plotted my movements to avoid what seemed like an inevitable fate, only for the game to remind me that all life is fragile no matter what you try to do. Some of the death sequences are unnerving, watching him fall or come afoul of some deadly guard dogs, but not entirely to the point where it put me off. If nothing else, it steeled my determination to solve the puzzles that lay ahead, to avoid the possibility of my little friend coming to any further harm.
Playdead has trademarked a twisted but hypnotic sense of game development, creating environments that leave you cold yet determined to find a way through to the end (whatever that end may be). Given there are so many modern games that try to convince you of their story strengths through endless cutscenes and voice work, Inside proves itself through the use of emotion, setting and tone in order to pull you into its grasp. It says much to budding indie developers looking for a way to break into the market, that you don’t have to throw everything (including the kitchen sink) into your project to find an audience.
I will say this about Inside, it’s a short stay. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be happy about a game that doesn’t stick around for long, but in this case it feels just about the right length for its context. I’d love to explore this world further, to know more of its secrets beyond what we see, but this story is short for a reason, its reflections on morality and control not overstaying their welcome nor growing old too quickly. Inside is sharp, well designed and as compelling as Limbo ever was.
You can find Inside on both Xbox One and PC via Steam.
Mark Isaacson is a freelance journalist and editor of PN2. Go say hi and share your thoughts on Inside @Mark_D_Isaacson