Impressions: Playdead's Inside
If you are unfamiliar with the 2017 game Inside, maybe you will recognize Playdead's previous game Limbo, the black and white adventure of a young boy in a treacherous and puzzle filled world. Limbo was one of the first games to show the world that a unique small scope game could really be stellar and pull in a crowd. The games artistic style, side scrolling elements, and numerous ways to die, made it a staple, and all those motifs are carried over into this developers newest game. For context Limbo came to Xbox Live back in 2010, and besides porting the game to numerous other systems, Playdead has been working on this game ever since. Inside launched in mid 2016, putting six years between game releases. But when you play Inside you can see where all those hours over those years went.
The first place you'll see all those man hours are in the environment and art. Although this game has a decidedly simplistic art style, the way Playdead designed it's levels is masterful on the art side. The way they play with light and structure keeps each section of the game looking fresh. They take a break from just black and white, adding earthy tones, creating a dark and muddy game. Limbo's death animations were a highlight back in 2010, but Inside takes this to a whole new level. The way your young protagonist moves through this world looks so fluid, even when he gets tripped up and keeps running, it feels so real.
The other way you can tell the high level of craftsmanship this game has is in the games numerous puzzles and the overall flow of the game. The game is not broken up into chapters or noticeable check points, it just plays. I played this game over the course of two days, and the first night when I had to put it down I really just had to stop abruptly, because the game just begs you to keep going and keep exploring. The other reason I would put a game like this down would be if I was getting stuck on a hard puzzle, sometimes it's good to put it down and come back with fresh eyes. Now this game was not a breeze, but the puzzles certainly never seemed impossible to over come like some of them in Limbo. Some may see this as a negative, and not enough of a challenge, but I see this as masterful game play. A game that rewards you and makes you feel smart for solving a puzzle, and at no times makes you feel dumb or cheated. It's important for the solution to a puzzle not to feel obtuse, and at no point did I think I was getting by on just luck.
The one negative I'd have to say about this game is that I didn't get a good appreciation for the story. I was so engrossed in the game play, that any subtlety was lost on me. The game starts with a boy sneaking around somewhere he is very obviously not supposed to be. But as you get deeper into the game your intentions seem to become a little less clear. It starts to seem like the only reason you are here is to continue to go further. And when you finally reach the end, the game asks you to interpret what it all was for. Now if you find all the hidden achievements there is a secret ending, but who really has time for all that.
I hope we don't have to wait another six years for another Playdead game, but when they take their time it really shows in the end product. They have again proven themselves as masters when it comes to 2D puzzle design as well as nailing a great art direction. I'd love to see them work a little further outside their box, but certainly keep the high level of polish we have now come to expect. Inside is certainly worth your time investment, it will keep you playing right up to the very end.
Have you played Inside? Did you like it better than Limbo? Or are puzzle games just not your thing? Leave a comment below so we can continue the conversation!