INSIDE Review - A Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy

A little over six years ago, Limbo was first released. An indie gem developed by Playdead, it was a critical and commercial success. What I personally loved about it is the fact that its presentation & gameplay were both unique and extraordinary. For the longest time, I was absolutely sure it would be the studio's best offering. But I was wrong. Inside not only met my high expectations, but it beautifully surpassed them.

In many ways, Inside feels like a spiritual successor to Limbo. Gameplay-wise, it's still a puzzler. As someone who typically stays away from the genre, I can tell you my experience was perfect. Controls are kept simple. You're exclusively allowed you to jump and pull objects. This might sound undemanding, but the solid foundation allows you to walk, run, swim, climb, and even control bodies. It never feels like you need more, because Playdead throws a variety of objects and ideas for you to interact with.

While not impossible, puzzles are extremely complex and varied. Nonetheless, it never took more than a couple of minutes for the mental light-bulb to turn on and realize how to proceed. The game never lingers on a mechanic. Instead, they're continuously evolving;you're doing the same things, but under completely different circumstances. It makes sure Inside remains fresh from start to finish.

When it comes to progression, this physics-based platformer sticks to the 'trial and error' approach. Occasionally, death is required for you to learn a lesson and comprehend how to move on. Thanks to fast load times and constant checkpoints, dying doesn't seem like a punishment. If anything, it's a tool for you to ultimately succeed. Lastly, it's important to point out that the camera work is outstanding. It never gave me any issues, and it still managed to deliver killer cinematic moments.

Having said that, Inside's biggest asset might be its flawless presentation. First off, the game is drop dead gorgeous. Once again, Playdead decided to create a monochromatic, gloomy artstyle. The use of color, particles, and lightning is stunning. It feels the same as going through a twisted, horrific children's book. Plus, I believe the developers did a better job at world-building. The location genuinely feels like a real town, with different areas and landscapes. I was captivated from the very get go.

That feeling was only enhanced as I progressed through the game. There is a real sense of atmosphere, accomplished thanks to a fantastic use of sound and visuals. Throughout the title, the mood is bleak and tense. Walking through a forest hearing nothing other than your footsteps and breathing is truly nerve-racking. Being chased by loud, furious dogs or armed guards is the definition of terror. Suffering painful, and graphical deaths such as being blown apart by shockwaves or drowning is heartbreaking. Everything you do in here matters, since you are fully invested and immersed.

When it comes to the narrative, it's exceptionally weird. I won't spoil anything, as you owe it to yourself to go out there and see what everybody's talking about. There are a number of elements that don't quite relate to each other, and the result is confusion. You're given no explanation as to what your character's quest is, or his motivations. It's simultaneously intriguing, mysterious, and shocking. It takes multiple jaw-dropping twists and turns, including what might be the most bizarre, unexpected closing act I've gone through this year. Trust me when I tell you that the final sequence carries a nice payoff that will stick with you for a while.

Finally, my one minor issue comes with Inside's length. Ending at the three-hour mark, a Playdead product once again closes the curtains before I'm ready to say goodbye. You often hear the phrase 'better for a game to leave us wanting more than to overstay its welcome'. While I perfectly understand if their vision was a 'short and sweet ride', it's the second time I'm left desperately begging for a couple of extra hours. Nevertheless, this is obviously worth its price.

Verdict: Inside doesn't reinvent the magic Limbo delivered. It rebuilds it, crafting an entirely new adventure you must try. Also, it reclaim's Playdead's spot as one of the most exciting developers in the world.

The Good
- Jaw-Dropping Presentation
- Crisp, Satisfying Controls
- Vague, Fascinating Story
- Clever Puzzles

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