I never was a particularly huge fan of Playdead’s first game, Limbo. I certainly appreciated all the things it was doing, but it never truly resonated with me. It’s monochromatic color pallet, the simplistic platforming, and heavy reliance on trial and error made the 2009 indie darling seem like a slog at times. Six years later, their second game Inside seems to be retreading familiar footsteps while fixing most of my issues with it’s predecessor.
When you start Inside, you’ll be dropped right into the fray with no context whatsoever. You are a boy wearing a red shirt, who must run and jump his way to the right. While it all sounds pretty straightforward, Inside manages to improve a lot of the mechanics that Limbo established. The basic movement and platforming is smoother and more responsive than ever, all the while moving at a more brisk and satisfying pace than Limbo did. Even the way you interact with objects in the game has gotten an overhaul. Objects that you’ll need to push or pull over into prime platforming position are no longer directly in your way, instead they exist on another plane slightly in the background. It sounds like an insignificant change that only saves you mere seconds in time spent climbing over blocks and carts, but it’s exactly these kinds of adjustments that make Inside a much better and more polished experience.
On top of the improved mechanics the overall design of Inside trumps that of Limbo. While not completely gone from the experience, most of the trial-and-error based gameplay of Limbo is absent. You won’t find yourself snared in a trap that you couldn’t see, rather you’ll find yourself poking at various objects that could lead you to your next goal. Those things might kill you, but it will rarely ever feel like you don’t have any agency over the situation. It’s in pursuit of solving these puzzles that you’ll start to appreciate the amount of care and creativity that went into crafting Inside.
Even at face value it’s easy to see the macabre beauty that Inside is. The art direction of the game is consistently impressive as you travel between multiple and varied locations. From forests to farmlands, factories and laboratories, every location is beautifully realized and flow seamlessly into one-another. It’s all so unsaturated and dim in the best way possible. The game feels very oppressive in it’s tone and makes you feel almost powerless at times. And while there aren’t really any enemies in the game, there are some truly terrifying things at play trying to end your little red-shirted life in gruesome fashion.
Inside has some truly powerful moments that are well worth experiencing and while the levels are all cohesive and meld together, the story feels so obtuse and vague that I found myself with more questions when it ended than when I started. There is a lot to interpret and theorize about what is really happening in Inside, but at face value the basic premise of the game was never really made apparent to me.
All things considered, Inside is a phenomenal game. Clocking in at just under four hours it’s a super tight package that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and manages to stay fresh right up until the end. Without going too deep into some of the more interesting points of the game, rest assured that Inside fixes a lot of the problems of it’s predecessor, while still building off of what made Limbo such a monumental game in the first place.