If you were to trap ten gamers in a room and ask them to reel off some good indi titles you can bet your bottom teeth someone will mention Limbo. It is one of the few game my wife sat down and watched me play from beginning to end. Limbo was first released back in 2010 and has since appeared on pretty much every current gaming platform known to man. So six years later and the team at Playdead have brought us their second game, simply titled Inside.
As the game opens you take control of a small boy who stumbles into a woodland clearing, it is dark and you are on your own. As I started to move the first thing that struck me was how well animated the boy is. I play most games on mouse and keyboard but for this title, I would strongly advise you use an analogue controller. In terms of movement run, jump and grab are pretty much it but don't let that put you off: interacting with the environment feels fluid and intuitive. The game is played on a two-dimensional plane that exists within a 3D environment. Other recent platform games such as Ori and the Blind Forest have used this style of visuals to stunning effect. With good use of foreground and background assets the game world, for the most part, does not feel like a platform game at all.
The visuals of Inside are beautiful, striking and melancholy. As the boy starts to move you very quickly come across scatterings of civilisation and see the first people in the game. As I approached, a man stood near a truck saw the boy, ran over and choked him to death. This was actually shocking: to see this happen to a young boy in such a graphic way. From the sickening snap as you fall too far to the horrific way attack dogs rip you to pieces: you learn very fast that this world is dark, cruel and unforgiving.
Planet Earth, maybe.
Anyone who played Limbo will see the instant resemblance to Inside, however, there is another game that it constantly reminded me of. Back in the day, I owned an Atari ST and one of my favourite games was Another world. In this game, you accidentally get teleported to an alien world and you spend the rest of the game fighting your way through it. From the featureless faces to the overall feel of the gameplay: I can't help but wonder if this old classic was an influence for Inside.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Inside for me is that it is not clear if this world you are in is based ours or an alternate world where things developed slightly differently. One thing that does become blindingly obvious is that if this is earth, something has gone very wrong indeed. The more you observe the humanoid beings you encounter, the more you see there are those who seem in charge and then others who look like slaves. The latter move around almost like puppets on strings with little sign they are still sentient. When limbs get lopped of they move independently (the Thing anyone?) and soon it becomes clear they can be 'switched on' and manipulated to help with some problems you face. I felt pity for these creatures as they were clearly regarded as nothing more than tools for the ones in charge.
Most of the game takes place in a cityscape that is shrouded in darkness and gloom. From abandoned offices, warehouses and industrial sites you use must navigate an array of puzzles to progress. Many of these puzzles are physics based and are an absolute joy to figure out: admittedly none of them really pose a serious challenge. It sometimes feels like the entire world has been sold off to the highest bidder and these dusty rooms now sit, abandoned under a sheet of dust and forgotten by all who once lived there.
Being small is not always a negative (that's not what she said)
Does a game have to be long to be good? Some people might think so and when you are on a limited budget you can understand gamers wanting a good return on their investment. Titles like The Witcher 3 give gamers hundreds of hours to go at and with seventeen different endings replay value is high. I think it's important to tell you guys that Inside is a short game and at just under four hours the credits rolled. For £14.99 this will certainly be a downside to some gamers and I can understand that. What I would also say is this, some games are not just about getting a hundred plus hours and indeed often when they do it's mainly down to mindless padding. Every single second you spend playing Inside is unique, each step can lead to a hideous death and it is this ultra-intense experience that makes Inside worth every penny. It is worth noting that the sound design is also exquisite. From the echo of footsteps in a cavernous warehouse to way sounds occlusion changes when underwater.
The way Limbo ended and indeed the game itself was very open to interpretation and there have been some fascinating theories over the last six years as to what the ending meant. This is a none-spoiler review and so I shall not discuss the second half of the game in any detail. I will say that there are some disturbing (and somewhat hilarious) twists near the end of the game but I personally found the final conclusion very disappointing. I think the sudden change in games direction could have been explored a little more but as it stands we are left with too many questions hanging.
However, the journey to get us there is one of the most visceral and genuinely unsettling game environments I have ever seen. Why do we scare the crap out of ourselves with horror films, why do we eat sherbet lemons or throw ourselves out of perfectly working aeroplanes? I think we do it for the intense contrast from the norm and seeking input that pushes our senses is something that makes us human. If you are truly short on cash and need a game that will keep you going for the next three months then I would wait for a sale, for everyone else you should go and buy this exquisite game right now because it is a shining example of what this incredible medium can accomplish.
I hope you enjoyed my review for Inside on PC, if you don't already please follow me on Twitter @Riggedforepic and subscribe on Youtube under the same name, thank you.