It blows my mind that it has somehow almost been six years since Limbo was released. I still remember that game eerily well, though I haven’t played it since so it’s hard for me to say how well it holds up (I have to believe it is still a very solid product). The company behind Limbo, Playdead, just released their second game, Inside, on Xbox One last week. For me personally, this release seemed to pop up very suddenly. I knew it had been announced, but I knew nothing about it and then all of a sudden it was available for purchase. I knew that…you know what…no more pre-amble. Let’s get into the many reasons why you should be buying this game immediately.
Inside is very much the evolution of Limbo. It is a 2D puzzle platformer with a minimal, yet beautiful, aesthetic that features a young boy as a protagonist who has to navigate his way through a dangerous environment that is full of traps waiting to provide him with a shockingly gruesome demise. It runs the risk of feeling like a retread of Limbo, but instead it feels like Playdead perfecting the formula. It’s as though they took everything they learned making that game and applied it to improving the concept in nearly every way. I believe they succeeded admirably.
There’s a story in Inside, but it sure doesn’t lay it out clearly for you. There are no cut scenes, no spoken lines and really no narrative provided in any way. Everything that happens in the game is amidst the action. It’s the kind of game where as soon as you finish watching the credits roll, you immediately hop online to discuss everything you just experienced. It’s a game with layers that allows for study and various theories. Reading about everyone’s thoughts on the story is nearly as entertaining as the game itself.
Inside is terrific evidence that true to life graphics are not crucial to making a great looking game. Visually the game is absolutely stunning. The atmosphere is consistently bleak and oppressive, with lighting and minimal colour used to great effect. There is a surprisingly large variety to the environments, with your character running through a forest, farmland, caves, office buildings and more. Oh and not a single character has a face, a choice that only adds to the overall unsettling mood that Playdead has implemented here. I read online somewhere that you could take nearly any single image from this game and apply it to a Tool music video and that summarizes it pretty perfectly.
I recall Limbo putting a large emphasis on trial and error, leading to situations where the only way to truly know how best to progress was to die and then do it right the second time with the knowledge you’ve just gained. There’s far less of that here, though it does rear its head occasionally. Thankfully generous checkpoints (quick side to say that this game has one of the best chapter selects I’ve ever seen) and quick load times never make this an annoyance. There is a greater emphasis on puzzles here, some relegated to a single screen and some requiring multiple steps across an entire area. The puzzles are the perfect level of difficulty in my opinion. I never got truly stumped, but still felt like a god damn genius when I would figure out what I needed to do.
Inside, as with Limbo before it, is all about showing not telling. Outside of the main menu, there is no other text to be found anywhere in this game. You are not given a tedious tutorial teaching you that the left thumbstick moves your character in case you have never played a video game before. You are left on your own to figure out how the mechanics work. At first you are introduced to something in a very straight forward matter, so that when you encounter a more involved version of that same mechanic later on, you are prepared. It’s very smartly done and immensely adds to the immersion of the game.
I think what most impressed me though is just how tight Inside feels across the board. The whole experience took me about four hours and there is not a single wasted moment. New environments and mechanics are constantly being introduced and puzzles rarely repeat. Some may scoff at the length, but this is a game that would lose a lot of its impact if you were repeating the same puzzle types over and over. There’s simply no bloat. The whole experience feels finely tuned to perfection.
To expand on that last point just a little more, something I was consistently impressed with is just how close you cut it during the various chase/encounter scenes, even when you succeed. A number of things come after you during the game and even when you nail a section, you still barely make it by the skin of your teeth. That…that can’t possibly be the expression I was looking for there. Skin of your feet? Skin of your neck? There’s a saying like this right? I’m not insane? Whatever, you get the point. Hopefully.
Inside was worth the six-year wait. It tops Limbo and provides a quick blast of near gaming perfection. I’ve already played through it twice in order to find all the secrets, and I’m sure I’ll revisit it down the road. People are going to talk shit about the “short” length but they are not your friends and you should immediately stop listening to everything they have to say. Buy Inside. You won’t regret it. And even if you do at first, just wait until that final act. It’s the kind of thing where I had to go in the other room and get my wife because somebody had to witness the insanity on screen. Incredible. …stop reading this and go buy the game!