I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect from developer Gentlymad’s In Between. I’d watched a few of the trailers and it looked intriguing if not a little puzzling. What could this journey through the mind of one unlucky individual offer that other puzzlers cannot?
So, In Between is set inside the mind of a man hit by a cruel twist of fate. Controlling him, you are both on a journey through the protagonist’s head. This world does not seem to obey the laws of physics however. The aim of the game is to free your mind by negotiating the 60-plus levels of puzzling goodness. Each of these puzzles will require your skill, speed of action, quickness of thought and all of your analytical, puzzle-solving skills.
First impressions of the game are good then. The graphics switch from full-on, almost street graffiti inspired interlude cut-scenes to the atmospheric, sepia toned seriousness of the puzzle levels. They’re beautifully rendered and hide a multitude of small quirks. Cogs move in the foreground as you move around, platforms glide and deadly caltrops rise and fall as you move. They’re all fluidly animated and make you really think about your next move.
The main character is also well drawn and slick. The mechanics of the game means that you can alter the point of gravity for him to get around the various puzzles and obstacles on the level arena you’re playing. Not that this is an easy process. The right stick controls the gravity while the left moves you along that platform. It’s a strange concept to get used to and it took me a few levels to really get my head around it.
Handily, there’s a tutorial chapter to guide you through the basics. This pushes you gently through the action at first, but once you’ve completed that, you’re pretty much on your own. It’s a good introduction, but it doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the next chapter of levels, where the designs, obstacles and extra elements get really devious.
The level designs lend themselves well to the game. It’s a good thing too, as with only 60 or so levels to play through, you’d make pretty short work of this title without them being a real challenge. There are lots of obstacles to negotiate and the developers have really thought about where they are placed and how you’ll need to get around them. Finding the escape formula may not be enough though. There are other hazards on the screen that will be out to get you, besides the laws of gravity and physics. The second chapter introduces the concept of darkness and fear. This has a tendency to creep up on you from the left of the screen unless you turn to face it. Even then, it will only retreat so far and you’ll face a race against it to get to where you need to be. Get swallowed up by this darkness and it’s level over.
There are other aspects to the obstacles too. It’s not just about moving the character. Some levels introduce a green normality area, where the right stick will not allow you to change the focus of gravity. It will, however, still affect the strange face-blocks that materialise when you stand on the blue platform switches. These can then be manipulated around the gaming area with the right stick to solve another puzzle, or part puzzle. Getting this wrong can be frustrating and if I’m honest, you’ll die lots of times before you’ll get it right. It can be immensely frustrating to get just close enough to the glowing portal to escape, only to slightly mistime a jump or drop and have to start from the beginning. On the larger levels, luckily, there are checkpoints to restart from but even they are devilish to get to.
So, the levels are well-designed, if devious, and the graphics are atmospheric. The transitions between level chapters gives a nice balance to the storyline, although the story does seem to jump between childhood memories and present day a little too much. This doesn’t make much difference to the way the game is played though. One good thing is that once a chapter is unlocked you can attempt the levels in any order. Handy if you’re stuck on a particularly tricky screen. To unlock the next chapter, you’ll need to complete a specific number of levels in each chapter. In the Tutorial, I didn’t notice that it had skipped to the next chapter, leaving three levels untouched, until I delved back into the Tutorial chapter. Just something to bear in mind if you want to beat all of the puzzles In Between has to offer.
The audio in-game is a little odd. There are certain areas of some levels that will trigger an explanation or voice-over but other than that, it’s ambient background stuff for the most part. It lends well to the overall feel, but it’s fairly unremarkable to say the least. I’m not expecting thumping techno, given the nature of the game, but a soundtrack that’s a little more memorable might have been preferred. The cut-scenes for In Between have more in the way of speech with some interaction, but little else to promote the backstory.
Overall then, In Between is a very slick, atmospheric puzzle platformer, with a twist. That twist allows more three or four dimensional thinking when it comes to solving the puzzles that it offers. The graphics and animation are well executed and the gameplay itself, while often infuriatingly unforgiving, rewards with a sense of achievement when each level is complete. Bear in mind that with just 60 levels, if you’re particularly adept at non-lateral thinking, this might just be too short. If not, then you’re staring down the barrel of a fiendish puzzler that will keep you swearing at it for hours.