Not wishing to cast any malicious aspersions on PlayDead, but I sometimes wonder if the developer behind Limbo and Inside has its offices near a particularly boisterous pre-school.
I imagine an office filled with programmers approaching crunch time while screaming, obnoxious children fling rocks at the windows from the playground below. The devs look down on the diminutive throng and one of the mutters, “soon.., you shall all suffer soon.”
The reason for this is because there’s something decidedly brutal in the way in which PlayDead dispatches the small protagonists in its games.
In Limbo, I witnessed a small child decapitated by a mantrap, spiked by a gigantic spider and turned into chum by spinning blades. Each death scene drew out tension like a blade and when the axe fell, the game’s choking atmosphere was suddenly broken by an invitation to laugh out loud in shock.
Inside Review: Suffer the children
Inside continues PlayDead’s proclivity for icing pre-teen heroes – death by dogs is particularly grisly – but this isn’t the only aspect it shares with Limbo.
As was the case in Limbo, Inside is set in a world that seems comprised entirely of shadows and gloom. Players move a silent protagonist from the left to the right of the screen (for the most part) and their interaction with the world around them is limited (they can jump, push and pull objects and flip switches… to begin with).
However, the differences between Limbo and Inside start poking through right from the start. Unlike Limbo, in which player’s environment seemed purely fantastical with its giant arachnids and whirling blades, Inside presents a world that looks chillingly familiar.
There’s no dialogue or cut-scene to explain what’s going on, but the images of vehicles patrolling woodlands in cars using spotlights and armed men loading piles of corpses into vans echo any number of real-world scenarios when authorities have started terminating large portions of the general populace.
As it sets out its stall, Inside could be presenting any number of backdrops and as such it raises a number of enticing questions. Is the protagonist’s environment in the grip of an epidemic? Is some sort of invasion transpiring? Who are these shadowy figures scouring the forest and why are they after a small child?
Inside Review: Jump, drag and try to avoid dying
As the player progresses, Inside throws up even more questions – which I won’t address here for fear of spoiling the game’s surprises – and obstacles they have to contend with. Some can be traversed with a simple jump or by positioning an object next to a high ledge.
Others require a little more lateral thinking – players will come across mind-control puzzles, conundrums that depend on timing and reflexes and one involving the potential for death under the hooves of a rather irate pig.
The puzzles themselves aren’t too taxing – even if the solutions to them don’t present themselves immediately. Inside is similar in this regard to the Portal games; once the player has solved a puzzle, the solution looks glaringly obvious, although coming to this realisation may take a little time.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Inside is how layered and deep its world feels even though the game’s story contains not one single world of dialogue. Inside haunts the player from the moment its protagonist emerges from a clump of bushes, piling on themes of slavery, conformity, oppression, totalitarianism and (later on) body violation. The game is a grim journey, indeed, and some players may find some respite in its relatively short length.
However, staring at the game’s final shot – which once again, I won’t spoil here – left me with a feeling of limp-wristed dread. The ending felt both fitting and discombobulating, and if Inside was less oppressive I would’ve played it again immediately.
Inside Review: Darkly inviting
Oppressive as it is, however, Inside is a journey worth taking. It’s not a groundbreaking departure for PlayDead in terms of its mechanics or structure, but its world is an engrossing horror that begs to be explored. Like many great horror stories, Inside bears repeated visits and it will live long in the memory of its audience after the credits roll.
Review platform: Xbox One | Game code provided by the developer