PolyNerdic Review: Inside

Play Dead’s 2010 game Limbo was for me a surprise hit that came out of nowhere for me and I immediately fell in love with its environmental puzzles and use of contrast and shades of blacks, whites and greys to drive home the stark and oppressive nature of the world the game took place in.

Fast forward to 2016’s Inside and you have a game that takes the lessons Play Dead learned from Limbo and expands on them.

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From the very beginning Inside feels like a successor to Limbo in nearly every way:

Young Unnamed Protagonist?  Check.

Bleak visuals?  Check (but with hints of red this time).

Strange, hostile and unforgiving world?  Check.

Gruesome deaths?  Double check.

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Inside plays in a manner very similar to Limbo in that it is a game where you “press right on the control stick until stuff happens”, the “stuff” being environmental puzzles of a “oh I see the solution now let me go through the motions of getting it solved” nature and encounters with enemies that have to be escaped or avoided instead of outright battles.

Sometimes the puzzles are as simple as moving blocks or triggering switches and rarely do they get more complex than “how do I keep this fire lit while approaching active sprinklers?” or “how do I get this block to stay in place so I can use it as a platform?”

I will admit that there were a couple of times that I was stumped, not seeing the solution until a viewer politely helped in the manner of saying “hey what about that _____ on the left?” and immediately felt a modicum of amused embarrassment over the plainly obvious solution.

I also died

A lot.

Especially to dogs.

I hate vicious video game dogs.

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True to the nature of “press right until stuff happens” the game never stops moving.  There are practically zero down moments as you are fleeing from weird masked men with guns and dogs one moment, stealing a bathysphere a moment later and encountering a number of strange phenomenon the next all while trying to stay alive.

The game has quite a few stomach clinching and breath holding moments and I will admit to holding my breath quite a few times as I wasn’t certain I was going to escape with my life or survive the next big jump.

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Inside is a collection of these moments, one after another delivered at relatively fast speeds without giving you much of a clue as to what is going on.  It is clear that the world is messed up and that certain individuals have nefarious goals but their relationship to the character is, pardon the pun, kept in the dark.

All Inside lets you know is things are clearly screwed up and your goal is survival, a feeling it shares with its predecessor by the boatload.

The look and sound of Inside is beautifully simplistic but not nearly as simplistic as Play Dead’s last offering.  The body language of the characters, who all lack discernible faces, speaks volumes without a single spoken word.  Upon entering a room or encountering someone you know immediately if they are to be avoided or if you’ll be able to use their assistance in moving forward.

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To call the game simplistic is definitely underselling it a bit as despite the low color and artistically rendered characters the game is absolutely beautiful to behold.

The world is dark and scary (or “full of terrors” if you prefer) but is also visually appealing most of the time.  Even at its most conceptually sickening there are genius elements of animation and rendering that are a real treat to behold.

It’s also worth noting on top of being beautifully crafted there are some really bizarre sequences that I had to see to believe.

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The game is not long, I beat it in a little over 3 hours, nor does it wrap things up with a neat little bow.

Both the game’s standard ending (the better one) and the hidden alternate ending (I’ve made video that will go at the end of the playlist once I’ve fully uploaded the play-through showing this one and touching on how to achieve it) leave things wide open for your imagination.

I happen to like the ambiguity of the ending and the game as a whole but I know for some it could be a deal breaker.  While I played the game I kept asking myself “what the hell is going on?” and left the game even more perplexed by what had unfolded.

Final Verdict: 8 out of 10

Inside is a game that will not be for everyone but for there are plenty of people who will enjoy the particular itch it scratches.  The puzzles aren’t overly taxing, the game isn’t the longest and if you like things tied off nicely and clearly explained you won’t like how it ends.  For the rest of us though, Inside is a beautiful, dark and confusing ride.

-Shad (@Polynerdic)

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