I just recently finished INSIDE (well, duh, it came out yesterday). What I mean is, I finished it very recently, so that it’s fresh on and in my mind. After running through this little tale, I honestly have no idea what just happened, and I think I’m going to have a tough time explaining why I’m rating this game what I’m rating it. Here goes…
OK, so… With that nonsense out of the way, and the obvious hyperbole I hope you could pick up on, it’s not without a little merit. If you read my In Between review (and I think you should), you’d have seen that I went into a lot of metaphor talk within and explaining of a bunch of things. I won’t do that here, but it’s not due to lack of knowledge. Allow me to explain. INSIDE doesn’t play its story out the same way. With In Between, while also a puzzle game with an emphasis on story, it’s one you instantly know how the game will begin and end, possibly before you even boot the game up. That works for that game. However, were I to start breaking down some things from this game, well, I feel like I could ruin much of what makes the game special in its own right, so I’m going to do what I can to keep things that could spoil the game to an absolute minimum. Well, to the best of my ability. Fingers crossed we get there!!
Right off the bat I need to set up my expectations for what I thought this game would be. I’m a major fan of Playdead’s first game, LIMBO, as I expect many people are, because it’s a damn fine game, and showed what a small team can do with the passion and drive to create something special. If you haven’t, you should play it. The premise/set up for that game is super simple – “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO.” – and that’s it. That’s what whole thing. Within that game, a decent amount of story is told without anyone ever saying a word. INSIDE takes the exact same approach – “Hunted and alone, a boy finds himself drawn into the center of a dark project.” – and again, that’s it. From the bits and pieces I’d seen over the years prior to playing , I truly expected this game to be a direct sequel to LIMBO. It’s not. Look, I know I said I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but honestly, I threw this out there on the off-chance it could hinder someone’s enjoyment of the game once they figure that out. I’m sorry, and I’ll try even harder to zip my lips on anything else.
What INSIDE actually is, at least to me, is a very clear spiritual successor. It takes everything its predecessor does, and does it better.* Thinking more on it, it’s like a game series that started on the NES and the next one in the line debuted on the SNES. If you don’t understand the meaning here, for whatever reason, just know it’s a compliment. It plays virtually the same, but better. It tells a story the same way, but better. Visually, it’s got everything firing on all cylinders. And within that story, again, just as LIMBO did, it tells it without ever uttering a word, but this time, it tells it so much better, much more clear, and even harder hitting. I honestly don’t know how they did it, but they did. Some companies never get to strike gold even once, let alone twice, and this one did. In a row…
Let’s move onto the graphics for a bit. It takes great advantage of the type of game it is (2D side-scrolling puzzler) with the power of the Xbox One. Everything looks smooth; everything looks great, whether in motion, or standing still. Unlike LIMBO, there’s a much higher color palate than the black, white, and gray it had. Now, that’s not to say it doesn’t take cues from that, because it definitely does, but it does it more subtly, and the inclusion of reds, oranges, and yellows here and there help make the world even more pretty to look at, as well as serving to point you in specific directions. Another cool thing is I never found any graphical glitches (flickering textures, floating objects that shouldn’t be floating, oddly moving limbs on the characters, etc.), not one, and those are things I find constantly and consistently in games. Even the best ones!! But here? Nothing. It never bothers me when it’s here or there in a game, and I only bring it up in a review if it’s a hindrance in any way. Sometimes, I actually kind of like it, because it amuses me if it’s not breaking anything. I’m bringing it up here for the opposite reason. I think my game must have been glitched BECAUSE I never encountered it. With the amount of graphical effects going on here, from the weather, to the lighting, to the shadows, to the water, I would have expected something somewhere. Slowdown, frame rate locks, anything. I didn’t, and trust me, I looked. And, yeah, the lighting is fantastic. So is the shadow work. And the weather… And the water… I’m pointing it out this way because these things are all major parts of the game, and rarely, if ever, are a combo of the lot not ever working together on-screen. It’s damn impressive how everything runs so smoothly.
Speaking of smooth… Man, the animations in the game are a sight to behold. The kid is constantly reacting to everything. Brushing up against something you figured would just be in the background, the background, foreground, movement all around him. The jumps, nip ups, stumbles, rolls, etc. that he takes all in stride, almost as if he wasn’t a character on-screen. The work that must have gone into perfecting every animation must have been crazy, especially for a small team. You can instantly understand why the game has taken so long to come out, and instantly be glad it did. I don’t know how many unique animations there are, but throughout the whole experience, it felt like every single one was brand new (even though I know it wasn’t). Yeah, they’re that good. Oh, and so is the camera. Yes, yes, it’s a 2D side-scroller, but the way the perspective shifts, and the way the 2.5D works into the puzzles, or even just to evoke a mood, or increase the atmosphere, it’s wonderfully done. The entire time I was completely aware at how much care went into making everything click perfectly in these areas, not only because I was looking for it, but because just the entire feel of everything screams it.
While the game isn’t devoid of music, much of the sound design here is the cool, constant breathing sounds of the red shirted kid, sound effects of everything going on around you, which of course, you guessed it, do a great job of feeling exactly as you’d expect and want them to, whether that be moving around objects, opening up areas, or the “wildlife” all around you, or the subtle musical tones when needed to evoke that almighty emotion the game strives so hard to achieve. When it’s there, it does a great job getting what it needs out of a scene, and when it’s gone, you don’t really notice, but not in a bad way, because there’s honestly a good amount of sound going on the whole time, especially if you really look for it. Sometimes it’s just a bunch of contextual noise droning on, but it doesn’t hinder the experience, it enhances it.
Comparing the gameplay to its predecessor is a valid thing to do, because it definitely plays exactly like it, and as I said, it takes everything that game did, but does it better, improving on the formula and tweaking it enough to feel just as fresh as the first time you tried it. There are also some nice nods to gameplay sequences from LIMBO, which I know fans will enjoy. Overall, you’ll be doing a ton of jumping, moving and dragging objects, and pulling things to get you to the end. Oh, and swimming. I guess since this kid is older than the original, his parent’s taught him to swim. And swim he will. What’s also pretty neat is how INSIDE manages to switch up the gameplay throughout your time with it, while feeling like it’s exactly the same. I doubt I’m explaining that properly, but, there it is. Once you play it, you’ll know just what I mean.
While there’s no denying you can probably already tell the eventual final result of this review, all the gushing praise doesn’t live here without some faults I have with the game. I’m sure others have no issues with what I’m about to bring up, and, that’s great for them, but I’m me and I have to call it like I see it, otherwise I’d be lying, and I don’t do that. I brought up the fact that there’s a lot of water in the game. There is, and honestly, I feel like there’s too much water. Please, don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here. I don’t think these sections play poorly. On the contrary, I think they play and feel wonderful. I just wasn’t a fan of how much time in the water we spent. Alas, this is the world and story they wanted to create, so thankfully it played well enough that I never wanted to bail. In fact, if I didn’t have to go to bed last night (never get married, folks), I would have been up finishing the game, rather than doing it today. I never felt disengaged. Which brings me nicely to my next downside, the game’s length. I wish it were longer. I’m sure others are fine with the length, but I wanted more. It’s a pretty short experience, running 3-5 hours, depending on your want (or need) to fool around with seeing all the awesome death animations, taking a moment or 10 to admire the scenery, or your ability to solve the puzzles. Which, again, shoots me over to my next point on my “sad” list. The puzzle difficulty is pretty easy. With LIMBO, there were a lot of head scratchers going on, and moments where things looked impossible to achieve. Not so here. I never got hung up on any puzzle for more than a few seconds, save for one where I was “zoning out” because I was pretty tired right before bed. Some I even “stumbled across” the solutions for just because I like to explore. Now, it may be because I play a lot of puzzle games, but I’m guessing it was also a conscious decision by the devs to tone down the difficulty so that everyone could make it to the end. Honestly, I’m 50/50 on that move, because if that’s the case, I kind of agree with it, to a degree. These may truly be just nitpicks, but, they bothered me enough to point them out.
As for the Achievements you’ll be racking up here? As I expected, they take their cue directly from LIMBO, but this time, thankfully, they play a small part in the story. I’m not opposed to these kinds of unlocks, however, I do have an issue with not getting an Achievement or Trophy for beating the game. The only ones here, as in the previous game, are hidden objects you need to find out of your way. And, to get the final one, you need to have gotten the 13 before it. I will give them credit, though, because doing so sets you on a path to an alternate ending that I at least very much appreciate, even if it leaves you scratching your head. If you want to talk to me about both endings, ask me, but I don’t want to give much more away here.
From start to finish, INSIDE is an amazing adventure to be on. Sure, it can be completed in 1 sitting, but that one sitting is a magical one, especially if you love story-filled puzzle games. Plus, one of the best parts? Towards the end of the game, there’s a pretty huge twist, and to me, it’s up there with some of the most “WTF” moments in entertainment, let alone gaming. And, honestly? I feel like if someone says they figured it out without having it spoiled, they have to be lying. I’m incredibly good at figuring out plot twists and endings to movies, games, and TV shows (much to my significant other’s awe and dismay) pretty damn early. It’s less a blessing than a curse, and I truly mean that. I don’t tell you this to brag, it’s just the opposite. I never saw this coming. At all. In fact, I don’t think I could have even if you gave me an eternity. Phenomenal job with that, guys. Seriously. Only after replaying it a second time did I look at the signs throughout and have an inking of what was going on, but even then, it would be a huge stretch to say I could have guessed it even if I was made aware of what to look for.
If you own an Xbox One, this is definitely a game you need to play within its life cycle. There are no questions about that, and don’t argue. Preferably sooner rather than later, unless you don’t care if you have it spoiled (don’t let it be spoiled, trust me). Whatever your tastes in games are, this should be on your list of games you need to beat before you die.
*I was going to make a Fallout 3 to Fallout: New Vegas joke here, but I went with the smarter analogy. Besides, I don’t want this to turn into a Fallout war. No pun intended. I mean, it’s technically true for this anyway, because LIMBO debuted on the 360 and this on the One, but I’m guessing most people will suss out the point I was making that the jump in games from that gen to the next was huge in comparison to how games are today from one gen to the next. Man, was this such a long drawn out explanation or what? Geeez, with it being at the bottom, I may have wasted my time twofold, since it’s not a guarantee people will see this. Oh, well. I guess that means I can say petty much whatever I want here and no one will read it. OK, here goes:
THANKS FOR READING!!
What? Did you think I was going to say something embarrassing? Sorry, not today, friend. Besides, no one would believe I go to sleep at night with all my amiibo in bed with me, even if I did reveal that secret. Which I’m not, so, I’m safe.