I am of the belief that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. For all the acclaim for Grand Theft Auto V (and it’s deserved don’t get me wrong), emotionally my heart was moved more by the small indie title Journey just a year earlier. Indie titles have the luxury of not needing to appeal to the masses and to make sure the game recoups its Hollywood sized budget. Rather, they get noticed by what they do with style, story and word of mouth. One such game in the last decade to reach cult indie status is Limbo by studio Playdead. After six years and a surprisingly quiet release campaign, their follow-up Inside has finally dropped. Simply put, another Indie classic is born.
Those familiar with the aforementioned Limbo will be immediately aware of how Inside works. You play a young lost boy in an eerily minimalist and frightening world, where death is just a footstep away. Controls are simple: control stick to move (it’s currently exclusive to XBOX ONE until it releases on Windows soon), A button to jump and X button to use/grab etc. But where the stark black and white grainy filter of Limbo made it feel like you were living in an old scary movie, Inside is filled with washed out colours that paint a more nightmarish futuristic world. Usually a brief synopsis would go here, but this game is best explored knowing as little as the young boy in the title, who without a single line of dialogue can show just how bleak and terrifying the future can be through fantastic animation.
The game follows a rough 2.5D platformer style, where perfectly timed jump and switch puzzles are in large supply. However, Playdead has made the game constantly intriguing rather than a repetitious puzzler. There’s plenty of variants on types coming so quickly that when I finally felt I managed a puzzle type, the game knew and moved on. It’s truly electrifying when a puzzle solution just clicks, and with almost every puzzle I felt this moment. I never wanted to look up a solution or put the controller down as I knew the solution was so close at every moment. The game trusted me to get it. It didn’t try to trick me.
What makes Indie titles so good are the off kilter stories they can tell, stories where they are given freedom to do something that might throw people off. And Inside has one. I was hooked very early on and I just needed to know what was coming next. I would have a theory that would immediately be changed in the checkpoint, and while my brain tried to run ahead of the story it appeared impossible for me. After completion I just had to dive back in from the start to see if my latest theory could be the right one, and for the rest of the day I was going online to read up what others thought it all meant. Again, the game didn’t want to trick me. It wasn’t being vague to annoy me. I feel like it is a truly subjective piece of work, and I couldn’t help but notice my theory was heavily personalised. I’m seeing what I want to see, and it feels great. In some ways I feel this ending even tops that of their previous game Limbo, which alone fuelled many a late night debate.
There are many allusions to the previous Playdead game Limbo in this review, and while that may sound like a negative, it truly feels like a case of “if it ain’t broke…” This game doesn’t feel like a re-tread of old territory. They have found a new story and a new style to complement their fantastically simplistic gameplay. However, it must be noted that this is another short title, with 100% completion easily being done within 6 hours. While this may sound like something that disappointed me, it truly wasn’t. I would rather be gripped from start to finish than have extra hours of filler. It comes and it goes in an instant, but it leaves a strong and unforgettable image in my head.
Played for 5 hours on Xbox One
SUMMARY: Inside is a perfect showcase of what an Indie title can be. Small, full of style and simplistic, but absolutely riveting from the player’s first steps to the utterly mesmerising yet horrifying conclusion. It builds from what made Limbo such a mainstream critical darling and delivers something just as powerful to become a game that won’t leave the player anytime soon.