Reviews// Inside

Posted 4 Jul 2016 13:15 by
Simplicity in gaming is a dangerous goal to aim for.

Make things too simple and player engagement is lost. Not enough and it could pull you away from the tone that you want set. Explain too much to your audience and they could feel like they're being treated like children, but at the same time you don't want to leave them confused without knowing what to do next.

In future if you're in game development and want a lesson in how to keep things as simple as possible while communicating with the player on every level, you should play Inside.

Playdead's spiritual successor to their 2010 hit Limbo is even more engaging and mind-blowing than its predecessor, yet despite it asking more from its player it manages to maintain the simplicity of the much loved puzzle platformer.

Again you're asked to reach platforms and solve puzzles, and this isn't where the similarities end. You control a young boy, you start in a forest and it'll instantly grip you.

As you reach your first obstacle, the genius of Inside starts to shine. You'll be on edge from the build up of atmospheric sound and incredible visual design. You notice some men in white masks in the distance and the child you're controlling changes the way he's walking.

A simple dip of the head and cautious step is enough to tell you that you should slow down, hide and wait for your moment to move on. There are no on-screen prompts, no text or signposting beyond simple animation changes and that's important because the way Inside manages to grip you first and foremost is with tension.

Without the clean screen free of icons, information and button prompts, the game would put a visual barrier between you and the surrounding area. This technique doesn't work for all games, but for Inside it's essential to keep you locked into the world you trudge through, to show its beauty in its dark setting.

The deeper you get into your adventure, the more the tension builds. Curiosity is never far from your mind ,but as that gently simmers away it's fear that takes over. Each awe-inspiring setting will give you a new thing to worry about or hint at something dreadful that you're soon to encounter and that feeling of being a lost child in unfamiliar surroundings hits home.

But a game can't rely on that alone and Inside doesn't rest on its laurels. It thrives on puzzles that, while not being rock hard, utilise the simple controls to great effect. Each is explained in a way that doesn't require anything more than clever lighting or slowly hinting at a solution in the lead up to it.

And it's the variety of the puzzles that impress. Single room physics-based puzzles, stealth, logical switch puzzles and ones for which even hinting at the format could be considered as spoilers. Inside excels in avoiding frustrating and making you feel as though you're achieving something by working out how to progress.

But beneath the basics that Inside nails is the wonder that sticks around throughout. Who this boy is, where he's come from and what he'll find are all at the forefront of your mind and will make you easily exceed the playtime you originally intended on at boot up.

The more you play the more you change your mind as to what this game is actually about and when you've finally settled on your theory the rug gets pulled beneath you, and by the end I was completely baffled.

Once the credits had rolled my mind began to spin and it took me a while to get to sleep as I laid down in bed trying to piece everything I'd experienced together.

This approach isn't welcomed by everyone. My wife was furious with the end of Inception but for some reason this form of storytelling, when done right, sticks with me. Ever since I've been going over the themes the game touches on, playing out theories in my head, discounting them and going back to them later.

It ate into my mind and I couldn't stop thinking about Inside. I'm still thinking about it now despite having a clearer understanding of what the game was trying to tell me beyond the gameplay and tension. But it doesn't stop me going over everything and chucking things out.

Argh!

As I write this I understand how frustrating it is to read. I want to tell you my thoughts but at the same time I want you to go and experience the game first because if there's one thing I want you to take from my opinion it is that you should play this immediately.

I can't guarantee you'll like it. The art style might not hit home with you as much as it does with me, the occasional moments of trial and error might be enough to turn you off completely, but I can assure you that by the time you finish you won't be done with the game.

You'll want to read what people are saying about it and then you'll want to put your two pennies worth in because the scenes that unfold manage to grip and confuse in equal measure.

Inside is special. Playdead takes what it did with Limbo and manages to expand those ideas in every way. Although it feels that there is room for more, there's a distinct lack of filler and if the sacrifice is a few dropped puzzles in order to keep the pacing then they've made the right choice.

I fail to think of anyone that I wouldn't recommend this to. If one element of the game doesn't grab you then there are hundreds of others that Inside manages to nail, but for me it hits it on almost every level making this game a classic and one of the best games of the year.

Pros:
+ Atmosphere
+ Sound Design
+ Engaging

Cons:
- Some may not like the ambiguous story

SPOnG Score: 10/10
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