We don’t know what is inside, but it’s probably bad for the boy.
If I enjoy a game, I can usually say why I liked it. This is because any game I’ve enjoyed these last few years has typically had hours of thinking and sentence structuring for the purpose of reviews and various opinion pieces.
Unfortunately, Playdead released Limbo right around when I was just starting to dip my toes into game writing, so I never really covered the game in any capacity. I remember calling it my game of the year, but I have dreaded the idea of going back to it. What if the game wasn’t actually fun, but I was just caught up in its atmosphere? Do I really want to go back and potentially ruin good memories if all that holds up is the game’s aesthetic?
So if it had done nothing else, I would at least be grateful that Playdead’s next title Inside quickly reminded me of all the stuff I liked in Limbo. However, Inside takes that structure much further than I ever would have expected. So much so that I can easily say Playdead blew their previous game out of the water.
Like it’s predecessor, Inside starts with the player taking control of a boy in the woods. It’s hard to tell if this boy is running towards something fleeing. For all I know, his destination all along is to just get away from the people trying to shoot him, the dogs trying to hunt him, and the robotic traps trying to capture him. Having played through it all, I would seriously doubt that there was so little motivation, but in true Playdead fashion, the story of Inside is one left open to some player interpretation.
The idea of an ambiguous story might turn off some people, as the mainly monochromatic look of the game gives its eerie settings of farmlands and dark factory depths a beauty and detail that is stunning when put in motion. When a game has so much thought put into its outstanding, unnerving visual design it is perfectly natural to be curious about the specifics of the world. Inside is clearly not attempting to be that type of game, though. This is a story packed with disturbing encounters right up until the end which are plenty entertaining, but I found the story to be far richer once the game was over as I was free to think about everything that had happened.
If you can find enjoyment in a story by reflecting on its themes and ascribing meaning to it rather than having it dictated to you, Inside will deliver a pretty incredible time with plenty of enjoyable pondering afterwards. If analysis like that is not really up your alley, I still think you should play it because the ending sequence is absolutely ridiculous in the best possible way to the point that I’m having serious trouble thinking of a better ending to any game.
While these sorts of grim, atmospheric journeys are well within Playdead’s comfort zone, Inside is also a really well-designed puzzle game. It takes similar ideas to Limbo, where moving objects and activating devices will give the player a path forward. However, Inside has the benefit of greater depth perception where threats and resources exist in the background as well as the plane you’re navigating. Inside also relies far less on finicky physics to solve its puzzles compared to its predecessor. If a solution feels like something that the boy doesn’t seem quite capable of doing, then it’s probably not the actual solution and you’re missing a crucial component.
Discovering that component is the main challenge, as executing a solution is far from demanding. While avoiding that frustration is commendable enough, I think Inside also does something better than a lot of puzzle games out there in the fact that all its components and options fit within basic ideas of movement. If a block is too heavy to move on the boy’s own, how do you get help to move it? If a changing water level opens and shuts a door, how do you get up to its platform with it open?
All the tools you need to find the answers to those questions are in the levels. Since the tools are so simple to wrap your head around, imagining potential solutions will come naturally. There are no secret languages to decode, or a need to take notes. Inside let’s you try to figure out what the boy and all the elements around him are actually capable of within a given space, and leaves you feeling really damn smart when the game shows that your ideas can work.
Every puzzle in Inside was not only satisfying to solve on its own, but they also gave me more ideas to work with going forward. It’s a hard enough task to make a satisfying puzzle that can still be reasonably solved, but Inside manages to carry that feeling throughout the entire game. Each puzzle teaches you a little more about what the boy and environment can pull off together, and by the end of the game you feel like you really learned how all of this game works from a mechanic standpoint.
Inside is a truly remarkable game. It’s creepy, weird, beautiful, and thought-provoking. Getting the boy to the end of his journey challenged my imagination and logic in ways very few puzzle games even try to, and the possible meanings behind the boy’s mission have been all I could think about since it was over. If you have the means to, go play it.