Atmosphere and gameplay intertwine to create a fantastic experience.
Once in a while, a game comes along that truly surprises you. The atmosphere and gameplay meld in a way you thought long lost. This year, that adventure was Inside, from Playdead Studios. Riddled with metaphor and meaning, Inside walks you through a harrowing world where every puddle, crate, or pit could either be your savior or the means to your brutal end.
The melancholic air lays heavy on your chest as you, a minuscule boy, journey forward. You begin treading through a forest, and soon stumble upon some men loading up a truck. From there, you are chased deeper into the woods, leading you on a grand adventure through farms, factories, and laboratories. Cleverly built puzzles are the only interruptions on your hypnotized trek into the abyss. Playdead has hit the mark in creating environmental puzzles, often hinting at the solution without outright stating it. They continually guide you through their wondrously sombre world without actually holding your hand–a technique lost to the ages as of late.
Each fresh, new element fits perfectly in this frightening landscape, and none overstay their welcome.
A sense of foreboding fills your surroundings as you constantly feel the need to press onward and never look back. Various wretched surprises and environments jump at you, wailing to be noticed. Dark rooms and silhouettes loom above you, lending to the idea that you are this small child. Lost and alone, you venture further into a dangerous world, unravelling its dark secrets and discovering its demented locations. Interesting and haunting, the well-crafted atmosphere is definitely a draw for Inside. Not only that, but such environments are well-crafted, too. Moulded with minimalist care, each new setting feels like mix between a paper-craft project and a dystopian film.
Whether it’s using feral dogs, gun-toting adults, or creepy fish children, Inside does an excellent job at creating suspense and clever levels at the same time. Objects which scare or horrify you are normally a small component within a larger puzzle. In one area, perhaps you have to figure out how to remove boards from a door while being chased by dogs. In others, you may need to find shelter from ominous searchlights while also rearranging platforms to help you reach a ladder. Each fresh, new element fits perfectly in this frightening landscape, and none overstay their welcome. While many titles will rehash the same mechanic over and over, Inside knows exactly when a method gets tiring, and utilizes it no more and no less than it needs to.
This otherwise stellar experience is marred only by the ending. While the climactic situation lends itself to the overall metaphor of the experience and offers unique platforming challenges, it feels like such an odd, sudden end to the slow, tense buildup of the rest of the game. I can’t help but feel that Playdead could have found their cherry-topper in a different, more thoughtful scenario. Due to this abrupt end, a few tiny plot threads are never touched upon; while this is excusable, as they were minor details, it is also an annoyance.
Inside isn’t perfect by any means. It’s a four hour experience with a lackluster ending. It’s also a sorrowful journey through a desolate land, providing unique platforming puzzles hardly seen nowadays. Playdead has once again created a truly special game, showcasing their talents as developers by creating smart, unique levels, and also as storytellers by forming a gloomy, morose world that matches.