I’d been putting off inside in a couple of ways: firstly putting off playing it as I was doing a sound redesign for it (which you can find in my projects section) and secondly by doing this review. To cut a long story short, I love this game, but I do NOT understand it.
If you don’t know Inside, it’s a game by Danish dev team, Playdead, and is quoted as the spiritual successor of the highly acclaimed Limbo; a.k.a arachnophobia simulator. A successor in that you play as a small lad, running from left to right in a beautifully designed pseudo-3D, dystopian world. When I say beautifully designed, I really mean it. The character design is simple yet effective, and the level design is flawless.
Which brings me nicely onto the sound design. I did some research into this a while ago when I was writing a proposal for uni; Martin Stig Anderson is effectively a wizard. Imagine you’ve not only come up with a marvel of immerse sound design and compositional work that reflects the emotions of the game in a master stroke, how do you make it better? By putting a transducer and a contact mic on a human skull and playing the score through that. Anderson has some before and after examples of what this does, but it’s just fascinating and incredibly innovative. It helps to really build upon a level of claustrophobia that is present within the game, not being able to escape from, at times, some really sticky situations, which is helped further by the parameterised dynamic breathing of the character. As this is a game without dialogue, the sound design forms an incredibly important part in building the narrative and sealing the immersion down. The sound design makes you think you ARE running away from wild dogs in a forest, narrowly escaping them. It makes you think you are moments away from drowning in the vast water sequences. It makes you think you are part of this giant conveyer line of people, walking almost certainly to your death. It’s so powerful that it makes you think you’re INSIDE the mind of this lad (Once again I do not apologise for the pun).
If I’m to go slightly more general now, I got really engrossed in playing this game, I mean it helped that I chose to play it on a snow day as I couldn’t leave the house anyway, but even though this game is on the short side it definitely does not detract. You can easily play through this game over the course of a day, but to really get the most out of it you need to spend time and experience it, as pompous as that sounds. Just appreciate the high attention to detail that is going on everywhere in this game. Seriously though there’s a lot more going on than you think, even if you don’t quite understand it. I played through this game from start to finish over the course of a couple of days and I left really pondering what was going on, whether there was some underlying narrative or metaphorical meaning regarding the industrial machine of the world or whether it was just meant as an artistic piece. The meaning is there for you to discover for yourself once you finish it. Just be aware though it’s a pretty rough ride.
Legitimately, I would not recommend going into this game thinking that you can run a permadeath with no prior experience with the game, or even the developers. It might seem frustrating at first, but in order to really play this game, you need to learn how not to die. Everything in Inside is trying to kill you; the people, the animals, the water, the animals in the water, the ground, the buildings, the caves, the sky, the air, the EVERYTHING. Seriously, this game is out to get you, but that’s actually the beauty of it. It’s very much a trial by fire, you run in all guns blazing, get picked off by the first thing you come across, and you adapt your play so that you don’t die the same way again. Naturally this may take a few tries, depending on the situation and the difficulty presented. But after a while you start to develop a knack for avoiding death… Or so you may think. The game is very good a coercing you into a false sense of security, and as such presents little traps here and there and is consistently ramping up and modulating the number of variables in place to kill you. For instance, there’s a puzzle in the game where you have to push a heavy safe off of a high platform, but only realise it’s connected by a rope to the small (very breakable) wooden platform you’re standing on, which dropping from kills you. So realistically; the game kills you, you learn how it kills you, you get confident, it kills you again harder. In Inside, you are never safe.
Aside from the constant barrage of player deaths, however, is the overall gameplay of Inside. The general feeling of Inside is a part explorer, part puzzle-based wonder, and part well constituted platformer. All of these parts come together seamlessly to create an incredibly immersive gameplay experience. You learn fairly early on that there are certain collectibles hidden around the map - on y first play through I missed the first three and from onwards of collecting the fourth I was constantly checking every space in every environment to make sure I didn’t miss another (which went a lot worse than initially planned). Taking the time to look for these collectibles really makes you appreciate the size and beauty of the levels and environments featured in Inside. Furthermore, the puzzle elements of the game are a classy combination of both intriguing and perplexing; they offer a suitable difficulty that ramps up as the game progresses, but the game also reveals the logic required for some puzzles as it progresses. Much is the case in the so called “20 Man Puzzle”, in which you have to explore six different areas over three different floors in one environment, in order to gather 20 people to stand on a platform opening up the next area. Each area has it’s own puzzle to solve so really there’s a level of puzzle-ception going on, and it also allows for a nice break from the constant cycle of dying. Finally, the platform mechanics are somewhat of a joy to work with, I fell in love with how well the physics work and to the extent that they apply certain puzzles to the platform realm. Furthermore, although the movement system takes place on a 2D plane, this is by no means reflected by the platform elements. There are elements that can be moved in the pseudo-3D realm of the game to allow access to certain areas, and open up solutions in puzzles.
Fundamentally, what makes this game so intriguing is how it works so well and can easily suck up a good 3-4 hours of your life, and yet so little is explained. It very much has an art house kind of vibe to it, which leads me to believe, as mentioned before, that there is some form of metaphorical meaning behind Inside, or whether it’s cognitive purpose is purely a case of what you see is what you get. I feel bad for repeating this, but at the same time it has baffled me so much that I feel the need to talk about it a lot, it’s very much stuck in my head as another realm of uncertainty. If you’re in the market to be as baffled as me then by all means play this game and read into it as much as you like and ping me a message with what you think is going on. If you’re no in the market for sheer bafflement then you should still play this game, it is, as mentioned before, a fantastic combination of exploration, puzzle solving and platforming, which culminates together to make a really nice game. Even if it does kill you every five seconds.