I don’t seem to get many opportunities to review extremely special games. I’ve had the dubious pleasure of reviewing some good Indie games and some truly questionable published titles in my time. It was with some trembling of hands that I downloaded PlayDead’s Inside. Would it be all that I would have hoped for?
Inside is, on the face of it, a curious title. I’d not seen a lot about it prior to the game’s release. Danish Developer, PlayDead, had hit a winning formula with their previous title, Limbo. As they look to build on that success, they’ve taken the concept of a nameless boy a little further in Inside.
Unlike many other games of this nature, Inside has no preamble. You’re launched straight into the action of this atmospheric puzzler. There are no hints, no subtle nudges in the right direction here. You set off running from something, although you’ve no idea who or why. You’re immediately relying on your wits to avoid men with torches and attack dogs.
As you progress through this prologue, you’re faced with some simple timing puzzles and a couple of logical, linear thinking conundrums in order to survive. Make no bones about it, I do mean survive. If the men with torches catch you, they’ll either beat you into insensibility or simply kill you. If the attack dogs get to you, then you’ve no chance of escaping their sharp teeth and powerful jaws.
The beauty of the game will strike you immediately. The graphics are in the main a lush, deep monochrome with many hues making up the landscape and interactive elements. It’s simply a joy to behold. It reflects the dark mood of the title as your unnamed boy protagonist delves deeper into the story of the game. The only real exception to this dark mood are the brighter points of interaction.
These are the only exception to that unspoken ‘no hints’ rule and there is a good variety of interactivity. Switches, pulleys, levers, pressure plates and mind-control devices will all help you solve the puzzles of that particular area and move on. The puzzles themselves start off fairly simple and logical.These grow progressively more complicated without being frustrating enough to make the game hair-pullingly impossible. Yes, some puzzles require a little bit of out-of-the-box thinking, but in the main, they’re fairly linear. While they may take a little bit of figuring out, when you do solve them, it’s always with a sense of satisfaction.
You move through the game by figuring out these riddles and you’re given the opportunity to escape in a yellow submersible. This little sub allows you to dive deep into a sub-aqua world under the nightmare that seems to be unfolding above. Be careful though, while the sub is a tough little cookie, it’s not invulnerable to attack. Beware the sirens that may go off is all I will say on that score. The underwater sections are, in the main, you using the sub’s dash feature to smash through doors, walls and other obstacles that bar your progress.
In the areas where you have to leave the safety of the sub, your boy swims with the grace of an Olympic athlete. Just don’t forget to come up for air, or you’ll expire. The graphical detail isn’t compromised here either, with your boy looking soggy and bedraggled as he splashes out of the water.
All too soon, you’ll need to leave your familiar sub behind, which is a shame. This leads to a section of the game where the story really unfolds and you’re called upon more and more to use the mind-control devices that are liberally scattered throughout the game. At this stage, I’m going to give fair warning that I’m about to talk a little bit about the story as it unfolds. Don’t worry, I won’t give too much away.
The story unfolds at a measured pace. There’s a sense of danger from the very beginning as you make your escape from mystery thugs. What you’ll learn on your journey, and I won’t give the ending away, is that the population of the planet is in a zombie-like state. These are able to be controlled by a select few overseers with some mind-control devices. It’s a truly stark and frightening, almost Orwellian vision that comes to you as you progress. There’s a clever use of light and dark to set the moods in each scene. There’s no real dialogue to tell the story though. It’s down to the actions of the thugs, their animals and any other characters that really sets the scene and tells this tale.
The mind-control units are essential to solving a lot of the puzzles and are usually dangling from the ceiling. Plug yourself in and raise the public from their zombie-like state to help you. This element is not only clever, but forces you to think about how best to deploy this resource to solving the puzzle you have. Again, this creates a sense of the story unfolding and develops an empathy for the mindless people you are forced to control.
Part of this development is through the audio in game. There are a plethora of noises that create and enhance the atmosphere and help to tell this story. Water samples, footsteps, vehicles and animals are all incredibly lifelike and assist in urging you into solving the puzzles that are laid before you.
Your unnamed boy is incredibly well animated and easy to control. Run, and you have to be mindful for obstacles. Jump and you’ll stumble in a heart-stopping moment where you think you’ll be caught. The connection between player and character is intense. You’ll want to solve the puzzles to carry on escaping from whatever is happening to the population. Because of this, any death while you have no set number of lives, is keenly felt. Death isn’t permanent however.The game auto-saves regularly though so it’s unlikely that you’ll have to replay large chunks of it to get back to where you were killed.
There are lots of ways to die as well, all a little too brutal for such an innocent creature to have to endure. The attack dogs will rip you apart, the thugs will beat you to death. There are monitoring cameras and massive lights that will fire some sort of wire-guided syringe at you and drag you away. Do not, whatever you do, fall too far, as you’ll die. All of these are pretty bloody, another concession to the predominantly dark monochrome theme. When it first happens, it will come as a shock.
Overall, Inside is a well-polished, well executed Indie title with more than just a triple-A feel to it. The graphics perfectly compliment the dark, foreboding nature of the story. The splashes of colour in them highlight the areas that you should be focusing on without being too obvious of a hint and this fits in well with the theme. Controlling the boy is simplicity itself and the puzzles he has to solve are challenging but not frustrating. PlayDead have created an amazing experience that many other bigger studios would do well to emulate. My only wish was that it would be little bit longer.