INSIDE is the followup to Limbo (2010), a game that’s been on my wishlist ever since the first E3 trailer in 2014 and after picking up four BAFTA awards for artistic achievement, game design, narrative and original property I couldn’t resist finally picking it up.
There’s no doubt about it – INSIDE is a beautiful game. I often found myself stopping to admire the art style of the environments and level design, the minimal use of colour and particularly the use of light throughout the game is astonishingly effective, each scene has a level of depth and character that far surpasses it’s predecessor. Not only are the environments astounding but the character animation might be some of the most fascinating I’ve ever seen in a game, my heart was in my mouth each time the character stumbled mid chase or leapt from one platform to another.
At it’s core, INSIDE is a puzzle platforming game. At times I was on the edge of my seat trying to complete a puzzle before my impending doom, but for most I was ploughing ahead without a care in the world, completing puzzles without a moments hesitation. Perhaps it’s the somewhat linear path of a 2.5D sidescroller that presented the designers with limited options or perhaps the designers were concerned that anything more complex would be too difficult for the average player but I found that 90% of the puzzles landed in one of two categories –
a. proceed as normal and solve the puzzle with minimal effort
b. proceed as normal, die, immediately learn from your mistake, and then solve the puzzle
You could argue that this is the making of a well designed game – and don’t get me wrong – INSIDE is astonishingly well designed, but throughout the game there are a distinct lack of “a-ha!” moments, when something clicks mentally and you’re able to solve that puzzle that’s been bugging you for the past 5 minutes. In most cases, puzzles often felt like a chore of running left and then right or vice versa in order to flick a switch or grab a box and then run back in the opposite direction. The “a-ha!” moment I’m referring to is something that Portal 2 captured frequently, you felt smarter for having solved each puzzle but without ever reaching frustration. It’s a feeling that INSIDE doesn’t quite manage to capture but still remains pleasantly satisfying.
The remaining 10% of puzzles were trickier and mostly timing related, as well as a few (potentially under-used) satisfying mind control inception puzzles where the player is controlling a zombie-like character, who is then controlling another zombie-like character in order to complete multiple parts of a puzzle. There were only a few instances that left me completely baffled and feeling slightly cheated. Part way through the game the player is introduced to a propulsion box that they’re able to stand on and be propelled upwards, generally used to give the player a challenge by jumping off the box at it’s peak and then on to another platform. Throughout the game these boxes are constrained to a pole and will only rise and fall, in the later chapters one puzzle can only be solved by using another environment mechanic to smash the box off it’s pole, seemingly breaking the restrictions of the mechanic that we’ve been taught.
Fortunately the beauty and intrigue of INSIDE’s environment kept me pushing on and the game leads to a extremely satisfying final act with some crazy character animation and a wonderful yet mind boggling climactic ending. While any questions will go unanswered, much of INSIDE is left to your own interpretation. In the unlikely event of a sequel I can only hope that we learn more about the world and perhaps that the game is able to break away from it’s 2.5D origins and give the player more complex environments to explore while still keeping the beauty of it’s art style.