InnerSpace: An Enjoyable Entry In The Exploration Genre | A Short Pause Review
When one game sets a new standard for a genre, it’s always interesting to see whether other developers are able to build on what made that special game so successful and put their own spin on it in an effort to take it to the next level. Back in 2012, thatgamecompany came in and swept gamers and critics alike off their feet with its spectacularly well-crafted exploration-puzzler, Journey. Since then, we’ve seen countless attempts to mimic Journey’s success, all with varying degrees of success…and failure. On the one hand, Abzu was a game that was able to capture lightning in a bottle and deliver an experience that was close to what Journey was revered for. On the flip side of that coin, titles such as Oure have failed to come even remotely close to leaving a lasting impact. Enter PolyKnight Games — a very small independent studio that was founded in 2014 — and their open-world exploration flying game, Innerspace (Not to be confused with the totally rad 1987 Martin Short/Dennis Quaid movie of the same name), as they attempt to make their mark on the exploration-puzzler genre.
Innerspace finds you at the helm of an airframe — or airplane — which you’ll pilot throughout the six unique worlds that make up the game’s campaign. As you begin your journey, you happen upon a small ship on the water whose occupant identifies himself as The Archeologist. Here, he asks you to explore the many worlds of the Inverse, a realm of planets with their own unique look and layouts. Within these worlds, you’ll learn about long lost civilizations through relics which you’ll need to collect for the Archeologist, some of which will unlock new airframes with unique appearances, stats, and handling. While the Inverse civilization may be gone, each area still has a demigod lurking and who will appear once you’ve completed a certain set of actions across the map, triggering a “boss battle” that requires you to discover its weaknesses. Fear not, though, these demigods never actually pose a real threat to you as you figure out how to best them. This is meant to be a relaxing exploration game and, for the most part, PolyKnight Games delivers that.
In terms of gameplay, while your airframe is constantly in motion, you do have a few control options at your disposal to help you maneuver through tight quarters or move quickly from one point to the next. The right stick controls the throttle and the roll, while the left stick controls your pitch and yaw. The L1 button is used for drifting, which acts as an airbrake when you’re turning. When you release the L1 button, you’ll receive a slight boost in whatever direction you’re facing. Lastly, R1 will execute a dive mechanic and once you’ve entered the water below, your airframe acts as a submarine. There are five different ships that you’ll attain over the course of the game (if you find the relics required to unlock them, of course) and, while they all have different stats, I never encountered a reason to switch from the craft I had become accustomed to. The controls are generally straightforward, but they don’t always deliver a smooth experience. The fact that your ship is always in motion makes maneuvering through long, tight corridors or enclosed structures difficult at times and can lead to some frustrating moments. If you bump into a wall, there’s a good chance you’re about to become a pinball, bouncing off several walls which will result in your ship’s destruction. There’s also the chance you just become completely disoriented and have no clue where you are or where you were initially heading. Thankfully, placed in several locations around the map (both outside and inside of some structures) are special platforms – aptly called perches - where your airframe can dock itself and you’ll be able to survey the area without being in-motion. This allows you to get your bearings and figure out where to head to next.
While there’s a small learning curve in terms of grasping the controls, it won’t keep you from appreciating the level design of the six different areas that you’ll be exploring throughout the game. Each area has its own distinct style, and it looks very pretty in motion. It will behoove you to throttle down often as you explore these areas because there are many well-hidden tunnels and breakable entrances that will lead you to relics and other discoveries that you’ll need to 100% the game. PolyKnight wants you to explore every nook and cranny, and most of the time they’ll reward you for your attentiveness. Some of the later areas that you unlock are very elaborate, so you’ll want to pay attention to where you’re going because it’s very easy to get turned around and end up right where you started. There is no mini-map to guide you along the way, and no hints to point you in the right direction. This is an exploration game through and through.
When it comes to performance, Innespace runs smoothly for the most part, but there were a few brief moments of slowdown during my 11 hours with the game. They were hardly noticeable though, and it never impacted my experience. If there’s one area that left me disappointed, it’s the soundtrack. That’s not to say it’s a total disaster — far from it — but compared to the soundtracks we’ve heard from similar games of its ilk, I felt like the lack of a strong, impactful soundtrack was obvious when compared to the wonderful worlds I was exploring. In my opinion, when it comes to exploration games, gameplay and presentation are paramount, and the lack of a robust soundtrack was somewhat disappointing.
At the end of the day, Innerspace hit just enough of a chord with me to walk away appreciative of PolyKnight Games’ effort. As I made my way through the wonderfully detailed levels, I was in awe of just how many hidden secrets there were to discover. Figuring out the puzzles needed to progress through the different area was a nice challenge, and the boss battles were just as complex to figure out. For some, the controls may take some getting used to, but by the time the credits roll, you should have a firm grasp on the flying mechanics. I would’ve liked a much more impactful soundtrack to complement the game’s unique visual aesthetic, but that’s not the case here. I feel it would have enhanced the experience even more. That said, if you’re in the mood for an exploration game that will reward you for searching every inch of the map and offers up some challenging puzzles along the way, Innerspace will provide you with just such an experience.
We reviewed InnerSpace on PlayStation 4 using a digital copy provided to us by the fine folks at Evolve PR