INSIDE is a better game than LIMBO – looking at it from here, it’s as if Playdead’s first foray into the puzzle-platforming genre was as a child dipping their toe into a pool of water, while with INSIDE they’ve dived the full depth.
The comparison with LIMBO is evident, too: not only are the developers and gameplay the same, but both use of an eery, oppressive ambient that in addition to the overly detailed deaths create a mild but constant feeling of dread in the player. Like in LIMBO, you guide a small boy – this time around an actual child, instead of some abstract shadow – from left to right, fleeing from danger and solving simple puzzles as you go.
There was never a moment where I had to spend more than a moment of contemplation before arriving at a puzzle’s solution, and INSIDE is indeed not a difficult game: no hard-to-time sequences to rack up your death count, no complex puzzles that’ll have you scratching your head for minutes if not hours – this is inspired by LIMBO, after all, not Braid. This more than shows in the time I took to complete the game, along with all the game’s secondary, hidden puzzles: somewhere between three and four hours.
For its lack of difficulty and short length, neither necessarily bad things, there’s one thing INSIDE has in heaps: ambience. I’m not talking about story, as even after a couple of completions most I have in that sense is of my own theorizing, but how the environment, visuals, interactions, creatures and sound coalesce to make INSIDE what it is. The silence that prevails throughout most of it only enhances the sound of barking hounds or the loud thud of a crate full of people falling, and punctuates those moments where there is a soundtrack – scarcely placed across the game, they’re all memorable because of this.
It’s also one of the best looking games I’ve ever played, blending a cohesive art-style with a solid engine that never hitches. The way corn stalks waver gently as you run across them, or how rain patters gently across a brightly-lit lake, INSIDE’s a game where the visual aspect is central to the game, and not just a nice aside. Being a physics-based puzzle platformer means that the extra attention to animation given by the developers also helps set the mood: the boy interacts uniquely with everything he encounters, and even separate ladders seem to be climbed differently. He’ll pick up his pace when he sees a pack of hounds running after him, and glance behind him in fear when masked people start chasing him down. I smiled I first encountered a container that I could drag or push and saw that instead of blocking his path, the boy would sidle across it if you chose not to interact with the object.
I can’t stress enough how important the effort gone into animating the game plays in its overall feel. The slow way the boy tears at a loose board, which first unlatches at its start then at the end before finally coming out, goes a great way at showing how much effort it actually took him to do that. The weight given to each action means that it not only looks like the boy is carrying them out, but feels like it too.
While at first I wondered how Playdead had managed to take six years crafting a three hour puzzle-platformer, now I don’t – instead, I can see where each of those years went into. If many games often feel like a long stretch of short buildings, INSIDE is a single, beautifully carved marble tower: it won’t take you much to see all of it, but everything – the gameplay, the artstyle, the sound design – is so detailed that it’ll take you more than one look to actually understand these things – it’s a game that doesn’t allow me to play the devil’s advocate regarding any of its aspects, as there’s no flaw I can think of.
INSIDE is an interactive masterpiece, and I can put that in no other way.