LIMBO is one of my all-time favorite titles. With its masterful art and sound design, mixed with some extremely rewarding platforming puzzles, it quickly became an indie classic. When I heard the game’s developer, Playdead, was to release another side-scrolling platform/puzzle game, I was both excited and disappointed. While I knew they were capable of making a fantastic game, I was sad to see that they seemingly stuck so close to the same formula as LIMBO. The new game, INSIDE, would not only prove my doubts to be wrong, but it also ended up being of one my favorite titles in years, eclipsing even LIMBO.
You take control of a young boy who starts his journey sneaking through some dark woods avoiding flashlights and guard dogs. Your surroundings slowly evolve into a full-fledged compound which seems to be the source of some very disturbing experiments and testing. With robotic sentries, loads of spotlights, and more ravenous hounds, you’ll need to help the boy maneuver his way deep into the compound to unlock the secrets of this dark place. And prepare yourself, as you’ll see some genuinely disturbing sights along the way.
The game presents itself much like LIMBO, with dark environments and spectacular lighting. While there is more visual depth this time around, with bits of color thrown in, the washed-out palette plays fantastically with the simple texture work reminiscent of Team Fortress 2. While the textures are smooth and not photorealistic, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t gorgeous. Looking somewhat like a living storybook, the game’s lighting, particle effects and overall graphical fidelity is absolutely stunning. Water jets ripple and dust lingers under spotlights. The blood effects even smear and wash away in water.
The animation and platforming itself is top-notch as well. Jumps and grabs feel tighter and more polished than what we saw in LIMBO. The movements of the boy can really be felt as you traverse the various obstacles throughout the game. Paired with easily some of the best animation I’ve seen in a side-scroller, it makes the game feel incredibly responsive and fluid.
Controls are extremely simplistic, but that’s not a bad thing. Jump, move, and grab is all you’ll be doing during your quest. While this may sound boring to some, it returns to what platforming is all about. Don’t worry about things becoming repetitive though, as the game mixes it up with chase sections and of course puzzle solving. There are even a few sections where you’ll be piloting a bathysphere, which has a boost ability. Some other strange changes will come along the way, but I’ll avoid those spoilers.
The sound design is lovely as expected. Music is foreboding and constantly adjusts to the actions on screen, even damping itself when entering water. Sound effects keep up with the quality as well. Footsteps echo in large cement chambers, drips of water ripple with a shallow plop in massive flooded catacombs; it all makes for an incredibly impressive experience.
If I was forced to find something I dislike about INSIDE, I would have to say the conclusion was bit of a let down. They take the same approach as they did with LIMBO, giving you hints and clues and allow the player to draw their own conclusion to exactly what the story means. Whilst I’m fine with vagueness in a story, especially with something as artistic as this, I felt they gave more clues than allowed for a non-conclusive end. You are presented with much more visual information than was shown in LIMBO, so much so that it feels as if there is a definitive answer and they chose to leave it out. So rather than leaving it up to personal interpretation, as with other art forms, it feels as if they just hit delete on the final scene for the sake of being vague. Regardless, the story is still interesting, strange, and definitely creates a discussion among players of the game.
With some of the best platforming and animations around, and with rewarding gameplay to-boot, INSIDE presents the player with a rich visual and artistic creation that will keep them engaged until the very end. If you remotely enjoyed LIMBO, you’ll love INSIDE. It’s a game that truly blurs the line between traditional games and games with a superb artistic vision.