‘Inside’ Review

Platforms Xbox One/PC

Developer Playdead Studios  Publisher Microsoft Studios

Genre Puzzle  Platform Played Xbox One

After receiving such critical acclaim for LIMBO, the next title Playdead Studios released certainly had quite the reputation to uphold. Inside is that game and despite one or two minor issues, it does a phenomenal job keeping the same level of quality and offering players a truly unique experience. It is unfair to make frequent connections between a studio’s two games if they are not part of the same franchise, but it is obvious to anyone who played LIMBO that the studio has found several development choices which they feel allows them to create a more interesting and compelling game. They are not wrong in this assumption, so while I will do my best to avoid bringing up the previous title, some comparisons may be unavoidable.

Playdead Studios has made Inside a mostly silent title, opting to avoid background music and letting players immerse themselves in the environment. There are still audio cues such as dogs barking, gun shots, or water splashing, but the overwhelming silence is noticed immediately. Anyone who has never played LIMBO may believe the lack of music or any white noise might make for an awkward experience, or that it was done out of laziness, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The result is a far more intense experience, particularly as you are given absolutely no context for your actions. You will be hunted, chased, and forced to hide from various things, and the lack of music amplifies the level of tension felt by the player. In the later stages of the game, there are certain enemies or creatures which may actually be more unsettling simply because it is a silent threat without cues pertaining to its whereabouts. To effectively remove sound in the interest of letting players formulate their own ideas and generate more tension requires far more skill than simply placing jump scares or creepy music throughout an entire game, although this is admittedly a very obscure concept to wrap one’s head around until you have experienced it firsthand.

There also happens to be no concrete plot to follow while playing Inside. Following a young boy through a relatively monochromatic landscape, no context is offered for any of your actions at any point. Once more, this is an intentional development choice, resulting in each player crafting their own unique spin on what possible motivations the young protagonist has, what the setting is, and why there are individuals attempting to stop the child. It can be slightly frustrating at times as you may wish to get an actual answer or two regarding some of the suspicions you have, but it also prevents players from potentially missing a deep-seated theme or moral simply because of an overly complex narrative. It also allows some suspension of reality while playing through the game as concepts of mind control, a malicious, aquatic boy, and large sentinel robots require players to completely ignore certain aspects of our known world. Stopping to think about things such as a child casually controlling a submersible detracts from the experience of playing Inside, but fortunately this only becomes an issue if you do legitimately stop to think about the actions occurring within the game. Running, jumping, and swimming through the title feels seamless at the time, but re-examining each of the elements highlights that the environmental changes or sudden shifts in theme are not as smooth as they initially believed. Changes to your setting prevent the puzzles from becoming stale and keep players on their toes, but trying to envision what Inside‘s landscape looks like in order to contain every set piece in the way they are presented results in a very confusing mental image.

Perhaps players are only seeing a small slice of a much larger world Playdead Studios has created, or maybe there is actually a correct way to view Inside‘s plot but the studio is having far more fun letting players experience the vague title and speculate about the events unfolding in the game. Towards the game’s finale, there is a very large deviation from what has been experienced until that point, almost shattering any kind of theory regarding the plot many will have. The most likely response anyone will have to the twist is pure bewilderment and confusion, but maybe there is a logical explanation for this as well. By the time I was finished playing through Inside, I had an idea of what I felt the story centered around and what a possible theme was, but looking back on the separate elements which worked in tandem to create the experience, I found there were still outlying features which did not fit nicely into the overall impression the game had given me. This raises an alternative option about Inside‘s plot, which is that maybe no concrete answer exists at all. Maybe all of the game’s elements have been pieced together to create a memorable experience which completely lacks any meaning or plot and we find ourselves searching for an answer simply because we have become accustomed to finding morals and themes in games.

Considering the game is based almost entirely around solving puzzles, it comes as no surprise that the variety in design and imagination required to pass them is astonishing. If you happen to be the kind of player who wants to explore every inch of a game and will intentionally travel in the wrong direction before proceeding forward, the puzzles of Inside may not feel tricky at first, but rest assured that there will undoubtedly be some that stump you for a while. Conversely, those who attempt to run forward through titles as quickly as possible will find they are being turned around and forced to retrace their steps frequently. There is a reason for each and every passageway to exist in this title, it merely requires players to determine what that purpose may be. Some puzzle solutions will be obvious but present trouble in finding necessary components while other obstacles will need creativity and experimentation to overcome. There are even instances throughout the game when you will be pressured via time or a lethal threat to complete a puzzle and locate a solution quickly. These are often the most dastardly as you must observe your surroundings while hurriedly moving through the space. Fortunately, death has very little punishment associated with it and checkpoints are incredibly frequent.

While achievements of games are rarely a topic mentioned in game reviews, the ones associated with Inside deserve a special mention here as the team clearly worked diligently to ensure even they were puzzles. Scattered throughout the game, there are collectible orbs hidden off the beaten path. Exploring the terrain thoroughly will lead you to most of them, and some environmental clues also help identify when you happen to be near one, but the description of each achievement is also subtle hint about where to locate its respective orb. Considering how large the game is, even having hints does not guarantee you will be searching in the right area, but it points you in the right direction. It is something truly special to have a puzzle game which presents a plethora of trials for the player but also uses an external game mechanic to create even more puzzles for players.

Those who enjoyed LIMBO will undoubtedly love its spiritual successor as it presents even more content and more intricate puzzles. The biggest foreseeable issue some may have with the game is its lack of direct narrative, forcing players to concoct their own reasons for the actions of each character. Unfortunately, when reflecting back on the experience, the various environments do not meld together in a way which makes this easy. I can almost guarantee you will create your own theory about the plot while playing, even if unintentionally, but you may find yourself stretching to make certain components fit. This does not detract from the significant feelings of success felt after completing a particularly tricky puzzle or the various emotions you may encounter during a playthrough, but it can certainly alter some of your sentiments after all is said and done. Overall, Inside is a marvelous title, and fans of puzzle games will be delighted as it presents another phenomenal experience which easily stands out as one of this generation’s best titles in the genre.

The Good

  • Incredible variety in puzzle design
  • Lack of background music enhances the setting and experience
  • Requires keen observation and creative thinking

The Bad

  • Title takes a very weird twist towards the end which does not fit with rest of the game
  • Later reflection on the environment and events makes the experience feel more disjointed

The Score: 8.8