Inside is one of the latest indie smashes to re-articulate what it means to play video games in the modern era. Developed by Playdead, who also made the masterpiece Limbo, they have again come through with a triumph of platform, puzzle, and storytelling. You can expect all the bleak stylistic brilliance from Limbo to be reworked and refined into a more dimensional and fulfilled art style.
Before discussing the details of the game, let me give you an idea of the world you are going to inhabit.
With nothing in the way of a tutorial your protagonist, a boy of limited detail, scrambles down a slope. Rocks tumble after him as you are dropped into a dark and unfamiliar forest, urged on by curiosity and something unsettling. You find that you are not alone in the woods. In the distance as you alternatively run and creep along we see masked men with flashlights loading up trucks full of people. Strange shapes like hot water cylinders with portholes and dangling cords are deposited throughout the mist and worked around the trees. It soon becomes very apparent from the actions of the masked men that they are on the look out for you, and if they catch you it isn’t going to be pleasant. The first time you do get caught prepare to be shocked. While your character is a small boy, the way these guys take you down is going to make you flinch.
As you traverse barricades, and avoid detection from vicious hunting dogs you begin to wonder why you are being hunted. Is it personal or have you stumbled into a restricted zone? The sound, while sparse and ambient, is technically brilliant. There are some subtle differences between sprinting through the forest, and squelching across bogged farmland that creates a distinct aural environment. This quiet atmospheric sound allows for beautiful and stark punctuation. The squeal of a parasite infected pig, the shot of a fatal stun gun, or the uniformed steps of a mind controlled mob. The music of the game is used sparingly but feels eerie and electronic. Glitching and undulating. The composer and sound designer Martin Stig Andersen has crafted a smart blend of quiet and sharp. Part of his process in coming up with the sound was to go with a theme of a “sound from within the head” exploring how we perceive the sounds that reverberate around in our own skull. He even went as far as playing some of the sound into a human skull and re-recording the noise with the timbre of the bone.
The further your character is pushed onward the more will you ponder the nature of your heroes plight. The world feels Orwellian and drained of it’s vibrancy and freedom. Even the way your character moves toward the right relentlessly conjures the feeling of being trapped on a conveyor belt. Like a lamb in an abattoir sailing blithely to it’s fate. What has happened to this world? Is it the future or the past? The game is charmingly ambiguous on this subject allowing your mind to fill in all the blanks. Is the boy searching? Or fleeing? Perhaps both?
On the subject of plot I think it’s best to leave it there. Part of the true magic of the game is the blend of high tension against the meditative. There is a mystery your mind will seemingly unravel in moments of contemplation looking at buildings steeped in mist and smog.
The aesthetic of the game is much like its predecessor Limbo, however for side scroller be prepared to experience a lot of depth in the graphics. Subtle visual cues will prompt you to take note of the path the boy will traverse, enabling for clever puzzle dynamics. The art style evokes Edward Gorey with the skill to 3D render. The game is almost totally monochrome except for intelligent uses of colour to indicate hidden mysteries and danger. The art is simple and beautiful but constantly inviting you to pause and wonder. When you swim underwater the way the surface distorts the environment above you, the subtle movement of trees in a forest, the jerky movements of a man possessed. The game is a feast for the eyes and takes a style that is not totally alien and manages to conjure a feeling of novelty.
The game has a science fiction feeling that is not amiss amongst novels like The Handmaiden’s Tale, The Road or 1984. It suggests a world of cult-like rulers and taps into the contemporary fears. A horror world where human rights slip away, gluttonous rulers have all the power, and individuality and privacy are considered taboo. The game is full of devices to give subtle and ambiguous hints about the dystopia your character has the misfortune to be a part of. The alternative future format in gaming is nothing new either. Popularised by series like Fallout, Infamous, and Bioshock most gamers will not find these ideas too foreign but will get something new out of the way the story is presented. It feels fresh. Coming across a secret bunker with a developing room, a cart full of corpses, or a masked band of overseers all give unusual and original insights to the world of Inside.
While I could talk this game up all day, it still is just my opinion. To lean on the credibility of others I would also like to mention this game currently has a next to perfect score on Metacritic of 93/100 and a 10/10 on IGN. The game has won a stack of awards including Best Game and has further built the cachet of Playdead immensely.
Whether you want to play on PC, Xbox One or PS4 Inside is available for download now! So if you’re finding yourself a little bored of the AAA explosions, and quick-scoping then stop grinding for gemstones and trying to raise your skill rating. Inside is a game that will reward your curiosity with wonder, your frustration with satisfaction and all the while treat you to visuals and soundscapes that will inspire and impress. The outside world is boring, why not see what lies Inside?