If Limbo was developer Playdead’s Super Mario Bros, Inside is their Super Mario World. Not only does Inside match all of the puzzle platforming excellence that is Limbo, but it also somehow surpasses everything ‘the original’ did well and does so with precision and confidence. The nearly six years Playdead took to develop Inside didn’t go to waste, as the game is a three hour experience so tightly knit, the game might be the closest thing to ‘perfect’ that I’ve ever played.
Easier, but not Boring
That begins with the game’s excellent puzzles. This time around they’re easier than Limbo’s, and definitely less frustrating, but each one feels like it has a purpose. The puzzles are refined in ways I’ve never experienced in a game. Sure, each puzzle introduces a new mechanic and builds off of the previous one, but that feels like a given today. No, it’s all of the puzzles that wouldn’t necessarily be classified as such that stand out.
At times where you’re being chased, the timing is so perfect that it’s impossible to get by without running as fast as possible, and when you do eventually escape, it’s breathtaking. I’m not lying when I say that you can’t stop running. Within just the first five minutes of the game, I was being chased by a dog, and when I hesitated for just a second, my child avatar was literally ripped to shreds, limb by limb. When I got away, it was only just barely, and in that way, the game’s set pieces almost rival a game like Uncharted or Tomb Raider. Those same ‘set pieces’ flow over into the game’s more traditional puzzles. I won’t spoil anything, but throughout the game, several key elements are introduced where that same timing is required and expected. There’s a sort of exactness to each of the different puzzles. Each one feels as if it’s been poured over and refined upon until it couldn’t be any better. But that doesn’t end with the puzzles.
Every Frame a Painting
Every single frame of the game is so meticulously polished, from the beautifully rendered backdrops to the specific framing of the camera, it’s hard to find a section of Inside that isn’t pretty in
motion. And that’s saying something. For where Limbo was a black and white and of silhouettes, Inside only evolves this formula so much. Shapes and characters are clearly defined this time around, but the color palette is still very limited. We have a few more shades of red, a touch of blue and yellow here and there, but most of your time exploring Inside’s world will be spent looking at different shades of grey.
I mentioned it earlier, but Inside is pretty in motion. That’s not to say that still shots of the game aren’t flattering, but there’s something lost in translation. Before playing the game I had heard time and time again that Inside was one of the prettiest games this year, but looking at screenshots I never understood why. Sitting down and playing the game in a dark room on a big screen showed me why I was wrong. The way light bounces off objects as the screen scrolls, to the incredibly fluid animation, Inside’s beauty can’t be appreciated from a still image.
Smart, Scary, Symbolic
That same subtle excellence is also clear in the game’s story. Limbo was a very personal tale about a single boy, but Inside chooses to broaden the scope and tells a story about a world. This change of scale ultimately makes Inside far more of a story driven game than Limbo ever was. In Limbo, there was sort of a lingering sense of purpose that wasn’t really solved until the ending; in Inside, though, this intrigue is constantly present and constantly evolving. Given the game’s lack of dialogue, the ‘story’ is experienced, not told, and every single puzzle furthers the story, little by little. As more mechanics are introduced in the puzzles or as new environments are discovered the world only begs to be asked more questions. There’s a constant sense of purpose outside of solving the next puzzle to progress to the next area.
That focus has changed to discovering the world around you. And throughout the game, there wasn’t a shortage of new things to discover about the world. Every single puzzle introduces, not only a new mechanic, but a new layer of intrigue to Inside’s dark and mysterious setting.
It all starts out as what seems to be your standard dystopian world, but slowly evolves into something deeper and more intellectual. This evolution extends throughout the game, concluding with the game’s stellar ending.
In a world of constant discussion the ending demands to be experienced. It takes everything special about the world, and ultimately the game, creating what can only be described as a work of art. And not a work of art in the sense that it’s so great it’s art, that discussion is pointless, and to be frank, old as hell. It’s a work of art in the same way a painting is. The game begs to be picked apart and analyzed. It makes a statement, but one that’s completely subjective, only furthering discussion. It’s pretentious, and ‘art-housian’ in a way that doesn’t come off as annoying, but instead registers as a deep intellectual discussion.
For all the greatness that comes along with the meticulously designed puzzles and the game’s subtle beauty, Inside’s real potential comes with its ending and the way it tells a story. If you’ve managed to get this far without any spoilers, stop what you’re doing and play Inside. That can’t be understated.
At the End of the Day
Inside is a game of purpose and refinement. Every single design choice feels intentional. From the clever puzzles, to the simply beautiful landscapes, all the way to the downright intelligent story, Inside is a near flawless game. If there’s anything to criticize, it’s that the game’s too short, and yet, even that’s hard for me to argue. If it takes Playdead another six years to make a three hour experience as good as Inside, they can take all the time they need.
Inside receives a 9.5 out of 10.
This game was reviewed on a retail PS4 with a copy of the game bought by myself.
I’m just a sixteen year old who likes to write about video games. For all of my writing, you’re already in the right place: calebTalks.com. To see some of my other projects and random personal musings, check out my Twitter: @Caleb_Talks. Thank you.