As a boy that grew up on platformer games, side-scrolling, jumping, run-away-from-giant-rocks kind of games always get a cursory glance whenever I log into Steam. In 2010, Limbo provided some 2 hours of intense fun, what with dodging giant spiders – mechanical or otherwise – as well as artfully navigating through gravity puzzles involving a lot of dark, some machine guns, and a lot of death. The little-known Danish band of developers have come up with a new title, Inside. And in the 6 years between the two games, it would appear the band has most definitely stepped up and not only improved on everything that made Limbo enjoyable, but even went a step further and basically creep you the fuck out.
The formula is familiar one. Unknown, faceless boy traipses through a forest getting chased by an unknown pursuer solving puzzles involving switches, a lot of running, expert timing and a sense of dread. The art direction is simple, elegant and crisp. The mechanics too are simple – run, jump and use. There are no tutorials for the game, nor are any necessary. In fact, there is not a single word anywhere – spoken or otherwise. The game relies on the player’s intuition and initiative to experiment with environmental elements including boxes, mind control helmets and mindless drones. Despite the odd instance of what I like to call ‘necessary deaths’, everything comes naturally. But the setting of the story itself is anything but natural.
It’s not really clear what the objective is. Run, hide, solve, rinse, and repeat. You’d be forgiven if that sounds a little repetitive, but for the 3 hours you’re inside, boredom is the last thing on your mind. One thing I will say on the negative is that overall, the game is dark. And I mean Doom 3 dark. While I appreciate the whole monster-in-the-dark shtick as much as anyone, you’re having to squint at the screen for any fleck of light more so than actually looking for clues as to what to do next.
It’s obvious the kid is going somewhere he’s not supposed to go. Between hiding from mechanical sentinels with spotlights armed with tasers, rabid Dobermans trained to rip your throat out fending off Sadako* wannabes in murky waters, the story is weirdly compelling despite you as the player having absolutely no clue what anything or everything is. What are the scientists doing? What’s with the mindless zombies? What the hell is that thing cosplaying that girl from The Ring?
Spoiling the game is near impossible. While I can tell you what happens at the end, which I think is pretty confusing, it’s probably better if you play it through. This isn’t a book, this isn’t a movie. Though there is no such thing as choice or free will in this game, much like all the theories behind what ‘actually’ happened in Limbo will echo on Inside. Having no text opens the game to a lot of different interpretations, and there already is a lot of debate on what it all means – assuming there is any meaning to be taken.
If you’re a fan of platformers, get Inside. If you enjoyed Limbo, get Inside. If you have a soft spot for open endings that stretches your imagination, get Inside.
I make no apologies for any inferred sexual innunendos.
*Samara Morgan, for the uncultured.