Atmospheric. Intense. Thought-provoking. These are the three descriptions I most often use when I talk about Limbo, indie developer Playdead’s first game released back in 2010. The beauty of Limbo isn’t just its impeccable production values, but also it’s narrative, which did a fantastic job giving gamers just enough substance to interpret the meaning behind the whole experience. Needless to say — and like many other Limbo fans — I was ecstatic when Playdead first revealed Inside to the world back in 2014. Even though we’ve had to wait longer than expected in order to get our hands on it, Inside has finally released and, once again, Playdead has proven they are second-to-none when it comes to creating incredibly immersive experiences that are hard to step away from.
Release Date: 6/29/16
Platforms: Xbox One, PC (7/7/16)
When reviewing games like Inside, it’s very difficult to discuss their pros and cons without stepping into spoiler territory, so I will do my best to tip-toe through the narrative without giving too much away. While Inside is first and foremost a puzzle-platformer, it will attempt to make you think deeply about its narrative as well. Inside begins with you controlling a child who appears to be lost in the woods. As you make your way through the opening level, you will come across a few moments that will immediately raise your curiosity, including strange trucks packed with motionless figures, masked men hunting you down with tranquilizer guns, and rabid dogs chasing you off cliffs. There’s very little given to the player as to what’s going on; you have to make do with the sights and sounds presented before you and try to piece everything together. While I constantly had a number of different theories floating around in my head regarding the narrative’s greater meaning throughout my 4-hour playthrough, the final act threw me a curveball I have yet to even come close to hitting. I’ve gone through many of the sections again since completion to find all of the game’s many secrets (more on that in a moment), but I can’t seem to make sense of the story of Inside. I’m sure there is something there and, more likely than not, it’s clear as day and I just can’t see it; I’m sure eventually I’ll give in and check out what theorists have come up with on Reddit. This is the ONLY aspect of Inside that I think finishes second to Limbo, simply because I thought Limbo did a better job helping you interpret what it was about.
Outside of the story, there are a number of things that Inside does extremely well that make it a special game. Playdead once again knocks it out of the park in terms of Inside’s presentation, especially in the audio department. Inside, like Limbo, is set against many dreary backdrops that include dense forests, industrial complexes, underwater chambers, and laboratories. Even though this is a puzzle-platformer that has a set path(s) for you to follow, there are a few levels that appear massive in scale thanks to the excellent art design of the backgrounds. As good as the level designs are, it’s the audio work here that takes the prize from a technical perspective. I played Inside using surround sound headphones and I was totally immersed from the get-go. Whether you’re making your way through a forest during a rain storm or submerged underwater, Inside will grab you with its ambient sound and score and never let you go. Playdead is at the head of the class when it comes to creating a consistently powerful, immersive experience.
The other major selling point of Inside is its puzzles, and Playdead doesn’t fail to deliver. One thing you need to accept before going into Inside for the first time is that you’re going to die. There’s a fair amount of trial-and-error involved when solving the game’s puzzles, but the eventual solution will often result in a very satisfying “A-ha!” moment when you’ve finally figured it out. You’ll wish you could immediately forget these puzzles upon completion because you’ll want to solve them again. The puzzles are never as direct as you’ll think they are, and exploring every nook and cranny of each area will more often than not reveal an item that is very important to the solution. That being said, despite a puzzle or two where I managed to out-think myself and make things tougher than they really were, there aren’t too many brain-busting conundrums that’ll force you to take a break.
The last thing I want to talk about are the secrets that are hidden throughout Inside, because these were a major highlight for me. Some of the secret areas are easy to find — there’s a visual hint whenever they are near — while there are a handful of others that you can easily miss if you don’t take the time to look around for them. In fact, one or two are just flat-out brutal to find. What’s even better is that some of them are directly related to the puzzle you’re solving; make sure to step back and examine everything before you move on. I’m not a puzzle expert, but I thought some of these hidden secrets were absolutely brilliant and Playdead deserves credit for how they’ve inserted these into the game world. Lastly, if you’re able to find all of the secrets, a hidden ending will unlock, which is a nice reward for those who put forth the effort to do so. I’ve watched the secret ending and, much like my take on the story as a whole, it didn’t help me understand things any better, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I’m sure one of these days it’ll hit me, and I will shake my head in disappointment for not figuring it out for myself earlier.
We’ve been waiting a long time for Inside to finally arrive and, after 5 years of development, I feel like Playdead has evolved into not only one of the best independent developers out there, but one of the best developers, period. While I still feel Limbo was the more impactful of the two in terms of story-telling, Playdead manages to surpass their first baby here, this time in the audio/visual department. There are plenty of wonderfully designed puzzles — and dangers lurking — that will keep you on your toes as you try to make your way to the ending credits. The hidden secrets range from easy to easy-to-miss (one in particular isn’t as obvious as the others), and the added secret ending for your efforts is a nice bonus. Overall, Playdead has delivered yet another gem to gamers, so whether you’re a fan of Limbo or just fantastic experiences in general, Inside is absolutely worth your $20.
- Incredible audio work
- Elaborate puzzles you'll wish you could unlearn
- Implementation of hidden secrets
- Taut, immersive atmosphere
- Confusing ending