Developer Playdead set the indie game standard with their critically acclaimed title, Limbo. It was dark, with a world shrouded in ambiguity and mystery and at times, it produced moments of beauty in a world that presented you with no answers, only concepts to speculate on. Inside replicates all of these aspects and, if it can be believed, with better execution.
From the moment you hit play, Inside throws you straight in without even a title screen to introduce you to the game (despite Limbo having one of the most memorable title screens). As the initial load finalises, you’re given control of the nameless protagonist. A small, featureless boy emerges from the edge of the screen and with a push of the left stick, we edge our way onwards, observing the boy shuffling through the darkness as the camera pans with his movement. A spotlight in the distance flashes our way, and illuminates the area around the protagonist, and where Limbo used the shadows to shape the world, Inside doesn’t shy away from revealing itself in all its splendour, and it’s all the better for it. The green leaves of the trees in the distance rustle in the night air, and the red jumper that drapes over the boy’s slender physique is striking against the dark shadows that he is lurking within. Colour then, is a feature that’s introduced to this game that was absent in Limbo.It’s probably evident that a lot of comparisons are being made between Limbo and Inside, but that’s because its nigh on impossible not to. They both share very similar characteristics yet are unique, and with Limbo being Playdead’s first and last game, it is the only other project from the company to contrast. There’s few developers that have released games 5 years in-between themselves and have its only source of comparison being their previous outing, with the exception of Little Nightmares being the closest competitor, but it fell ever so slightly short of the mark.
Not a breath of dialogue is spoken throughout the entirety of the game, leaving any interpretation from the lore and story up to speculation. By the game’s finale, it will leave you with an abundance of questions to speculate on and not a lot of answers. Every player will experience the same game, but not everyone will construe the same story. The journey from start to finish is entirely uninterrupted, as there is not a single loading screen though-out. Limbo’s floaty controls remain in this title, but seem to be more refined, with every jump and dash feeling weighty and precise and you can feel the bone-crunching momentum as the protagonist topples off a ledge that’s slightly too high. The environment projects a tremendous sense of scale that advocates danger around every corner and despite being a 2d platformer, Inside’s sense of depth is impeccable. Every area has been designed exquisitely, with each environment containing a vast amount of detail that feels like every pixel has been meticulously positioned for perfection.
Playdead retains their simplistic approach to their controls by using only three buttons to control the protagonist. You can run in two directions using the left stick, there’s a button to interact with the environment and a button to jump. The unsophisticated approach makes becoming accustomed to the mechanics almost instantaneous, and unlike its predecessor, Inside is noticeably more forgiving. Limbo took great pleasure in hiding traps and other contraptions that decapitate the protagonist instantaneously within its shadowy and dystopian world. However, during the initial three-hour playthrough of Inside, there wasn’t many obstacles that halted progression a considerable amount but there are several puzzles that you’ll encounter along the way. None of these conundrums are particularly overcomplicated, but they do verify that the stronger elements of Inside are the moments where it demonstrates cinematic brilliance, where meticulously designed set-pieces have you pushing the analogue stick as hard as you dare push to escape pursuit from a pack of hounds, or when the camera pans to reveal disturbing, gruelling scenes of which I won’t rob you of the experience here.
The game never explains how it works and never gives you any obvious hints on what you need to do next to progress, but to compensate, it uses lead space (that is, positioning the protagonist off centre to faintly suggest the direction in which to go) and subtle environmental clues to help you along the way.
This game never fails to surprise through its brief three to four hour journey, and although it’s relatively short, it means it doesn’t over stay its welcome and become over saturated. Inside is dark, often enigmatic, and sometimes beautiful, with it occasionally being all of these at the same time. Playdead somehow improved on an already near perfect title, and has yet again designed a game that will be remembered for many years to come.
And for that, Inside receives Red Minotaur’s first ever perfect score.
Final Verdict – 10
Publishers: Playdead, 505 Games
Formats: PS4 (version tested), PC, XboxOne
Release date: 23rd August 2016