It was always going to be tough to follow up on a game like Limbo. The indie darling introduced players to a grim but beautiful world and helped solidify the legitimacy of digital gaming. But with Inside, Playdead have created a rare masterpiece that transcends Limbo and sets the bar for game design.
Much like its predecessor, the player assumes the role of a young boy traversing through a dark, creepy forest, encountering deadly traps and enemies determined to halt the boy in his tracks with quick yet painful looking deaths. I won’t give away too much of the story, but with a minimal game like Inside, concentration and observation are key. It’s quite easy to waltz through this game in two or three sittings and be done with it, but to do so would be missing the point. Taking the time to observe the surroundings will give a clearer picture of who the protagonist is, what he running from, or where he is heading.
Nothing is written on a piece of paper for the player with Inside – visual clues are subtle, yet as the boy progresses through the game, events take on an ever increasing disturbing nature. What’s truly impressive is that Playdead never repeats the same idea twice. The boy may find himself head to head with a rampaging pig, or scouring the depths of a lake in a one-man submarine, but déjà vu is never felt in a game that manages to constantly surprise. The final 15 minutes or so in particular left my jaw hanging to the ground.
The gameplay in Inside is straightforward – you run, jump and grab various objects, traversing carefully through the murky world. The genius lies within the multitude of clever puzzles encountered on the boy’s journey. While not quite as fiendishly difficult as Limbo was at times, it’s still a remarkable feeling when that ‘eureka’ moment occurs after studying a particularly difficult puzzle.
Unlike the stark black and white aesthetic of Limbo, there are hints of colour here and there within Inside. It’s not the most technically detailed game to arrive in this generation of consoles, but it doesn’t need to be. The art direction is simply flawless. A snapshot of any point in the game could easily be printed, framed and pass as a work of art. Yet whilst beautiful to look at, it also highlights the horror of death, which comes thick and fast. When the player dies, the scene is never dragged out. Instead, a simple cut to black after a couple of seconds allows the player’s imagination to do the rest of the work. It’s a startlingly raw technique that worked wonders in Limbo and in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us.
To say much more about Inside would ruin it. Going into this game with as much of a fresh, open mind as possible is key to maximum enjoyment. Playdead have proven their talent once again and created a masterclass in game design. While other games are quite content to allow the player to fall into a particular routine, Inside constantly manages to surprise, delight and horrify in equal measure.