XBF Reviews: Inside
The follow up to Playdead studio much celebrated indie classic Limbo is finally with us after almost 6 years of painstaking development and thankfully it’s every bit the stone cold classic as its predecessor. Limbo is a game very close to my heart and one that left such a deep mark I wear it forever inked onto my skin so it’s safe to say I was looking forward to getting my grubby mitts on Inside. I won’t be going into detail on the game, missions or mechanics I’ll leave that to all the experts on Kotaku, Polygon and Eurogamer but I want to get across how Inside made me feel.
I’m a firm believer that video games can be art or at least some can. I’m not talking about the latest Call of Duty, DOOM or FIFA game but titles like Limbo that use it’s art direction to both provide the canvas for the experience but to give it a soul and an identity. You can look at any screenshot from Limbo and you know exactly what you’re looking at. Its visual style is so central to the experience changing it would fundamentally change it for the worse. Inside takes this and puts it at the heart of the experience and whilst it’s no longer a purely monochrome art style you can clearly see the influence of Limbo. There are splashes of colour used provide contrast to proceedings that add to the experience. Every single frame has been lovingly hand drawn and is dripping with details that on my second play through I was still discovering for the first time.
Playdead have created a truly unique game world for Inside. It’s a dystopian future which is hardly new but it’s the way the story and detail is offered up to you that makes it hit home. The atmosphere is oppressive through its visual styling but also its stunning sound design. Each area feels and sounds different through the background noise, character chat and the games subtle score combine to brilliant effect. Inside is a game that really begs to be played with a high quality headset for total immersion in its breath-taking game world.
It would be unfair to simply prattle on about how wonderful Inside looks & sounds whilst ignoring the gameplay. Inside follows the Limbo template offering a pretty standard physics based 2d side scroller and again this presentation feels like the perfect fit for Inside. Where Limbo was a purely 2D experience Inside has a depth to it that was missing in Limbo and the subtle splashes of colour compliment the experience. Dotted throughout the levels are clever and intuitive puzzles that never break up the action for more than a minute of 2. The majority are pretty straightforward and well designed so you’re not spending long enough to get frustrated.
Pacing is another area that Inisde excels at whether it’s the complexity of puzzles or the drip feeding of the story Playdead absolutely nailed it. The game never feels hectic or attempts to cram a massive story into a relatively short experience but focuses on keeping the story and narrative lightweight and unobtrusive but with the real meat of the story being delivered through the environments. Removing the lengthy narrative cut-scenes that pull you out of the experience in favour of letting the players seek out the story is perhaps the boldest move here. There is a deep, intense and brooding story arc woven throughout Inside if you want to seek it out of course.
From the first frame to the credits I’ve been utterly enthralled by Inside, dazzled by its stunning art direction and shaken by the musical score. In many ways I feel the same about Inside as I do about the first Bioshock game. Bioshock changed the game for narrative based First Person Shooters moving from the endless dull corridors of some generic world to the rich, detail packed Rapture. Whilst there can be no doubt Inside leans heavily on Limbo it’s from the likes of Bioshock that it seems to draw perhaps more inspiration.
Playdead have taken a solid foundation and built a masterpiece in every single measureable way. Inside is not only a must have experience it’s quite simply the best game I’ve played on any platform since Bioshock Infinite. The weight of expectations would have crushed lesser studios but Playdead have taken the lessons learned from Limbo and boldly built on them, improved every single aspect and the result is as staggering as it is unsurprising.
It’s simply and undeniably magnificent and a worthy successor to Limbo. Take a well deserved bow Playdead now I need to book my next Tattoo!
They say the second album is the hardest especially if the first was so well received. Make no mistake Play Dead have again created something truly special once again. Inside defies convention whilst sticking 2 fingers up at the ever growing collection of copy and paste, cliché riddled shit sandwiches us gamers get served. Comparisons with Limbo are obvious but Inside stands up on it's own merits and achievements. It's not for everyone but for those that do fall for it's considerable charms they are in for a captivating and at time unsettling experience. Play Dead have again raised the bar in terms of what we can expect from our Indie developers.