Limbo was an incredibly important title to the games industry. While certainly not the first, or the best, it helped solidify ‘indie games’ in the mainstream as a critical and financial success. It was also one of the most striking games of last generation, with a truly unique art style that really brought a Scandinavian melancholy to the forefront of gamer’s minds. It’s instantly recognisable.
Because of that, PlayDead’s sophomore effort Inside has been long awaited. There has been a six year gap without the developer though, and that might leave many to think that their follow up Inside might have had a troubled production and release. Well, it is with great pleasure that I can say that that isn’t the case. In fact, with Inside, PlayDead have surpassed Limbo in every way, and have created a truly, truly special game.
If you have played Limbo, Inside will be instantly familiar. You play as a boy in a horrific world that exist on a 2D plane, trying to figure out environmental puzzles. The comparison doesn’t stop there though. True to form, you’ll also be succumbing to all kinds of nasty deaths too. Inside is certainly comfortable territory for PlayDead, with almost all of its mechanics and ideas having root in Limbo. However, every aspect, literally every one, is better realised, brought further and wielded better than PlayDead’s first game. There is so little excess, such a deliberate pace and mastery of the game design craft that Inside is just a better in every conceivable way. I don’t say that lightly.
To go too deep into what Inside is about would betray the spirit in which the game should be appraoched, but also, it’s so slight and metaphorical, there will be a lot of room for you to draw your own conclusions. The game is continually arresting though, and that is in large part down to the title’s environments. You will send your boy running, swimming and tumbling through a tragic landscape that revels in the developer’s signature grimness. However, there is a lot of variety here too, invoking notions of rampant industrialisation, science run amuck, concentration camps and the depression of war time. As you move through the huge facility you’re charged with exploring, there are so many amazing ideas that all slot perfectly together. The detail in the backgrounds are a real treat, making this droning, sad world feel alive in a beautifully tragic way. The game’s artstyle is only ever supporting this, with some of the truly incredible images that will be seared into my head. It’s astonishing work.
The game’s puzzle design is also a real highlight too. Limbo, if it had one problem, was that it probably dragged on just a touch too long and ran out of ideas in the last stretch. Inside is so brilliantly paced though, that there is nothing that feels needless. No puzzle that became irritating or overused. I only properly got a little stuck on one section, and that doesn’t mean the game is too easy either. I always felt clever for figuring out something, and the spectacle of seeing how some of the more elaborate ones play out is truly a joy.
As with Limbo, one of the things that makes Inside linger in the mind is the title’s harrowing tone. It seeps through every pore of the game. It’s so very thick and oppressive, it shows a true grasp on vision and direction that previous few games ever achieve. Fitting somewhere between Limbo, Kentucky Route Zero and the very darkest parts of Portal 2, Inside certainly forges an identity all on its own. The blend here is really something special, despite its perturbing nature. There is a real sense of horror here, slight as it is, making it well worth the time of fans of the genre. This is supported by a beautiful sound design, that is pitch perfect at all the right points. It makes the spaces feel huge, with you often hearing noises of puzzles to come before seeing them, adding true anticipation. The musical moments are slight but feel right and at times, the rhythm of the cacophonous facility will help you complete some of the game’s puzzles. Those were some of my favorite parts in the whole game.
One of the other best qualities of Inside is one of restraint. The game is so deliberate with each move, so assured it has made the right step, that the game’s long, long development begins to make sense. PlayDead are clearly perfectionists, and the vision of the game feels like one arrived at after many, many ‘rewrites’. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the title had a whole other game’s worth of content on the cutting room floor, because it all feels so perfectly pitched, so calculated in its pacing and plotting, that there is no way this was arrived at naturally. It is a beautiful thing to see in a game and one I don’t think has been matched for quite some time. While the title might only take you three hours to complete, they all feel worth it. I did it all in one sitting, and it seems the perfect way to experience the title.
If Limbo is PlayDead’s classic, Inside is the studio’s masterwork. It’s instantly recognisable as a successor to the studio’s first outing, but improves in every way. Tonally, it is one of the most striking artistic achievements I can remember in the medium, full to the brim with ideas conveying that essence makings for a truly special experience. PlayDead have out done themselves with Inside, which was never going to be an easy task. While it might be a little short for some, the quality per minute on display here makes this instantly recommendable. If you want something truly great to blast through in one sitting, get your hands on this one. We will be talking about it for some time.
Buy it if: You liked Limbo at all,
Avoid it if: You can’t justify shorter experiences