The opening of Inside from Playdead studios had me in a state of wonder from the get go, walking through the eerie quiet of the woods of wherever I was, was serine, yet I was on guard immediately without even noticing it. Like its predecessor Limbo, the game starts without giving any context to where you are or what’s going on, like Limbo the game is a 2D platformer. Soon I was off and running with things picking up rather quickly, and the game I was in for was revealed, taking hold of the most primal fears while welling them up from within me. I can’t remember the last time I was jumping out of my seat, heart racing, making verbal noises while yelling at my screen. The first 15min of Inside told me the game was; tense, unrelenting, and if lucky I might make it out alive.
Stylistically Playdead has managed keep what Limbo did and only improve on it in every aspect, this game is freaking gorgeous (being underwater has never looked so pretty), sticking to a minimalist style with detail in appropriate areas, the lighting effects are a big part of this. It definitely plays off Valve’s Portal 2 in terms of level design, the whole time I played it felt as if I kept entering Aperture Science laboratories, even taking part in similar experiments. Playdead while tipping its hat in certain directions has created such a unique style that anything from here on even remotely similar would obviously be drawing from either of their games. Keeping the grey scale that Limbo used Inside adds just enough color in certain areas to give things importance (the boys shirt being red), while maintaining a sense of hopelessness.
Bleak is most certainly the name of the game, I was rooting for this boy the whole time, even though from the start I knew nothing about him, being chased by the men in the van, and their dogs still haunts me. As I played the game anytime I even saw someone in the distance I would tense, same goes for hearing the dogs barking. Immediately my mind would start racing looking around my environment thinking what the best course of action would be in the next few moments, because usually when encountering these cues things are about to get bad.
Death in games is tricky, especially living in a time when for most games death doesn’t really have any meaning—look at most triple A games. Death in Inside though manages to carry such weight, as aforementioned I cared about this boy from the get go. It was not dying itself that was haunting, but the ways in which it was presented. Like Limbo, death is used to learn what was done wrong and how to move forward, but when the dogs are nipping at my heels or there’s no way to know how long the boy can hold his breath underwater, things get tense. I’m fairly certain I let out a sigh or moan for all of his deaths, some being so tragic (dogs snapping your neck) it hurts.
The mechanics of the game are the most unique I’ve come across in a while. The way the boy moves through the world is unbelievably realistic, I could feel every motion he made, the weight of his movements. The boy maintains a paced jog, if the situation gets tense though he will break into a sprint, even stumbling when changing pace. I absolutely love this design choice, a game where there is no sprint button, but the character will sprint if needed. By taking a certain amount of control away from the player the game breathes life into this boy. Anytime he would start sprinting I knew to be looking ahead for any obstacles or means of getting away from my pursuers, and those times I didn’t get away I felt the full weight of responsibility for my actions, as if I had let him down. When the boy breaks into a sprint it’s almost as if he’s saying “help me…please”.
The most prominent thing I took away from this game was seeing my anxiety play out in game form. This is the underlying message of the game, the whole time I played I felt a pressure, I was on edge, my breathing would become heavy, and then it clicked—this is anxiety. All the narrow escapes, being in massive/claustrophobic dark spaces, the feeling that anything I encountered might kill me, and those I encountered who did not kill me, as if zombies who didn’t know I was there. This game made me feel overwhelmed the majority of the time, the take away being anytime I progressed, or had a narrow escape, the feeling of anxiety would mellow, not because I was succeeding but to mirror actual anxiety. Things may look bleak but rising up from this darkness is more than possible, even when feeling like the situation was out of my control (which is a big part of anxiety) by taking the appropriate actions the boy would continue to survive.
If this game has been on your radar I would highly recommend playing it as soon as possible. Inside captures the heart of certain emotions presenting them in a way that is easy to digest while looking gorgeous. There are is so many great things about this game, but I wouldn’t want to ruin some of the more jaw dropping moments where I didn’t know what was going on, yet had to face fact— just keep moving, and it will be O.K.