How do you follow on from Limbo? Universally acclaimed, adored by millions, Limbo beckoned players on to guide its unknown protagonist throughout its black and white atmospheric world, filled with endless hazards and dangers, its intricately well-designed puzzles luring players to their death all too easily as they attempt to decipher each one. Released in 2010, Limbo’s success hinged on many things, not only did it take people by surprise with its unequivocal brilliance, it actively encouraged players to go forth and die in order to work a way through its many puzzles, avoiding its grotesque deaths. Ultimately as an experience, Limbo left players yearning for more, something developer Playdead has attempted to deliver once again with its long-awaited new title – Inside.
Inside: Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Release Date: 29 June 2016
Price: £15.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
It’s very easy to draw comparisons between predecessor Limbo and Inside. Both games present players with an unknown, faceless young boy, thrust into a dystopian world, trapped within the confines of a two-dimensional plane where morbid forms of execution await every wrong move. Both titles have a similar resonating atmosphere drenched in dark shades, however, at their very core they are both essentially puzzle-platformers, pushing players right of the screen to reach a destination while often working back on oneself to search for key objects to assist in the solving of its intricate puzzles. Where Limbo’s canvas is more silhouette, a mute colour palette consisting of largely blacks and whites with the odd dab of grey splattered on for effect, Inside feels more human, more surreal, more akin to this planet, even if its story begs to differ. While there isn’t too much in the way of positive ambient colours with Inside, a red jumper worn by the unknown protagonist screams volumes and yet, what the colour of the little boys jumper signifies is completely open to interpretation in a game where it’s better to indulge first than to ask questions and never receive a single answer.
Inside offers nothing in the way of narrative, there is no text to follow and no words are muttered throughout the duration of the three-four hour long experience. Instead, Inside’s story is beautifully told through its wonderful murky, dreamlike visuals, encapsulating the player in every moment without ever feeling the need or desire to utter a solitary word. From the moment the young boy in the bright red jumper first emerges from the dark tree line above a short rock face to the moment the credits begin to roll there is no rythm or reason to Inside, the game leaves you with more unanswered questions then you can swing the proverbial stick at, but that’s ok. I’m ok with never truly knowing why guards hunt me down, eagerly waiting for me to make a mistake, to fall from the shadows that keep me protected me so well, I’m ok with never knowing why vicious dogs stalk my every move, chewing away at my lifeless corpse if they ever catch up to me. The great thing about Inside is that it offers little while still managing to offer so so much.
Playdead has made real progression with Inside, both artistically and mechanically. 6 years in the making, Inside is a celebration of the studio’s ability to build upon solid foundations, if Limbo laid the groundwork then the long awaited follow up has expertly built on top of that. Beautifully oppressive and artistic but not overly cluttered Inside is minimalistic, combining pleasant moments of sombre exploration with fast-paced, intense, heart in the mouth terror effortlessly, all the while blending its levels together seamlessly into one never ending experience. At times, the young unknown boy must become at one with the world in which he walks. A typical example of this is a scene oddly reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s, Another Brick In The Wall, the boy prompted to join a long production line of drone like individuals who all think and act the same way. Upon blending in with the line, the protagonist would be tasked with walking, jumping and turning in tune with other fellow drones to avoid being tasered to death while guards and scientists watch on, a very conformist moment and a poignant one at that.
So much has improved since 2010. Inside boasts far tighter controls than its predecessor although it still consists of basic minimal button use with a single button to jump and another to grab and pull objects available. Despite control options being limited it all feels far more comfortable to manoeuvre the protagonist from A to B when compared to Limbo’s at times, nervy control mechanism. Player movement is also smoother and performing tasks such as the moving and positioning of items to move forward in the game never growing tiresome. Inside’s camera work also deserves its plaudits with only momentary shifts of the camera that take none of the focus away from the young boy throughout, adjusting gracefully for close-ups moments.
Without wanting to give too much away, Inside’s puzzles are perfectly weighted, incredibly inventive and rewarding. Limbo possessed an unforgivable habit of torturing players while they attempted to navigate its many brutal riddles, forcing them through an unparalleled loop of exploration followed by macabre deaths. Inside is far less punishing than Limbo and while it haunts players on the odd occasion, more often than not its puzzles require far less thinking and players shouldn’t be left disheartened for long before unlocking the combination to the next area. Ultimately, every block in the road feels fresh with a far greater reward at the end of every question mark solved rather than time spent bogged down and frustrated.
How do you follow on from Limbo? A question developer Playdead must have faced on more than one occasion throughout the six-year duration of Inside’s development. The ability to understand what made the 2010 arcade hit so successful before carefully dissecting, calculating and formulating a plan to build on that success takes some doing. With Inside, the studio has not only strengthened Limbo’s framework, it has pushed above and beyond any expectations the eagerly awaited follow-up could muster. Inside is a hauntingly oppressive 2D platforming masterpiece with a gorgeous artistic approach, incorporating moments of stealth, frantic chases with creative but not overly complex puzzles. Trying to understand what Inside, as a story, is attempting to convey to each player may just leave you with more questions than answers. Additionally, collecting secret orbs across the game unlocks a secret ending that could possibly leave you in a fragile state of mind, but it’s a journey worth taking and a game worth exploring.