Inside is an emotional roller coaster ride from the moment you start moving right. The subtle and somber storytelling will make you feel scared, happy, and sad, in ways you have never felt before. It’s an uncanny dreamscape full of intrigue and horror much like its predecessor, Limbo. There are no spoken words, prompts, or even onscreen tutorials to tell you where to go or what to do. Instead, Inside’s entire story is presented as a visual journey that was able to hold my interest and curiosity the whole way through.
Very little was known about Inside throughout development and up through release, as developer Playdead gave us such a small inside glimpse through a couple quick teaser trailers over the course of a few years. I appreciate this approach very much and commend Playdead for keeping us on the outside. It was such a treat experiencing each and every moment for the first time on my own play-through, which is a sensation rarely felt through any form of entertainment nowadays without going on a total media blackout for an extended period of time. Because of this, I recommend that you quit reading any more of this review unless you are on the fence about purchasing this game. Even though I have tried to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, even the smallest details are better left experiencing for yourself for the first time.
The game starts with the playable character, (an unnamed boy in a red shirt) being dropped into the middle of the woods with no explanation as to what he is doing there. There is only one way to go, and that is right. The eerie tone and atmosphere quickly becomes even more frightening as you lead the boy through the outside of a heavily armed compound stealthily making your way past guards and attack dogs in hopes of reaching a decrepit building full of mystery. I found myself constantly asking, what are the motives for this boy? Why is he putting himself in such danger? And what does he hope to find or achieve? These are all questions that fueled my curiosity and kept me from putting the controller down.
As I progressed through the game, I became less curious about what the boy’s motives were, but more interested in the motives of the corporation the boy was exploring, as he found himself in stranger and stranger anomalies around every corner as he ventured closer to the “inside.”
The imagery itself is a spectacle just to look at, and often times had me stopping altogether to take in all the little details surrounding each area, like little chicks that will surround you overtime while resting near a farm, only to get spooked and scatter the second you start moving again. Inside’s gorgeous visuals are also complemented by the breathtaking lighting, which left me awestruck. Not only does it look beautiful and feel natural in every environment, but it also plays a smart role in the game’s mechanics and puzzle solving in ways I have never seen before. In many ways the light is more your enemy than it is your friend, and you will constantly find yourself hiding behind the slimmest pieces of scaffolding and ducking under the rapidly changing shadows cast by the piping in-between the terrifying mechanisms and machinery passing overhead.
Inside is similar to Limbo in a lot of ways. Not just because it is a puzzle platformer, but also because it takes many of Limbo’s ideas and expands upon them in fresh new ways. You will be required to literally put on your thinking cap at times and take control of the situation in order to solve the problem at hand, like guiding mindless waves of people in a zombie like state by using a brain control cap. There is also a very noteworthy puzzle halfway through the game involving numbers that made me feel sadness in one of its solutions in ways I have never felt before. It’s these types of moments that make for a very unforgettable experience.
While many of Inside’s puzzles are not nearly as challenging as Limbo’s, it’s because the puzzles of Inside have a greater focus on the story and giving you tidbits of information throughout, slowly painting a bigger puzzle to piece together out of the smaller ones you solve. It’s a novel idea, but one that I questioned in great detail whether or not it helped or hurt the game in the long run, as the painting never fully comes together.
Inside constantly pushes brilliant new ideas your way throughout the entire game that feel like they will cohesively join together and explain everything, but instead it all adds to a very vague and unexplained story that culminates into one particular moment that is guaranteed to shock every player, but also leave them with more questions than answers. If you don’t mind leaving things up to your imagination, then you will certainly have an enjoyable experience, but if you are the type of person that likes a more grounded story with no stones left unturned, then you will find yourself a bit frustrated with the outcome, which is where I found myself as the credits rolled.
Don’t get me wrong, Inside was still a very enjoyable experience and one that I don’t think should be missed, but I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed that many of the intriguing glimpses of story that were teased throughout seemed to be part of a bigger picture that is mostly unfulfilled. To me, a story is better off told when it doesn’t rely on you to fill in the gaps.
+Extensive detail / Beautiful Lighting
+No prompts or onscreen tutorials
+ Unique and intriguing adventure
+ Smart mechanics
– Teases/glimpses of a broader picture that is unfulfilled
– Leaves far more questions than answers
Inside is one of the most interesting experiences I have ever played through, and even though its vague story is never fully explained, it is a fresh experience that will take you inside places you have never been before. Guaranteed!
Jason Betthauser is the Senior Producer at The Game Bolt. He enjoys playing through classic games on cold, snowy, Minnesota days, especially if that game is Super Metroid. Follow him on Twitter.