INSIDE review: An awesome Xbox One puzzle-platformer

When I first got my hands on INSIDE, I had a lot of mixed expectations. Based on Playdead studio’s excellent track record and the amazing and an eerie trailer we got to see back at E3 2015, INSIDE had a lot to live up too. Whether Playdead studio wanted to say it or not, this game was always going to be a spiritual successor to LIMBO. Much like its predecessor, INSIDE is a horror-themed puzzle platformer where you play as a child in unfamiliar surroundings, using very basic controls to navigate a world that gets a whole lot of mileage out of limited techniques.

Because of the natural comparison to LIMBO, the question I was asking going into INSIDE was this: Is it a worthy successor? Would INSIDE be able to captivate me with the same dark atmosphere and underlying narrative that LIMBO stunned us all with so many years ago? To break it down into its simplest answer: yes. INSIDE was sending chills up my spine the entire time that I was playing it, and despite the fact that there’s no dialogue in it, the game managed to pull me into its narrative pretty well.

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Like a lot of good art, that narrative is pretty elastic when it comes to the details. While most of the pressing questions you’ll have during the story do get definitively answered, you’re going to end up filling in a lot of blanks on your own. Fans of LIMBO will be absolutely familiar with what I’m talking about here, and definitely, shouldn’t be concerned if they were put off by the slightly more defined world that INSIDE offers.

When you start-up INSIDE, you find yourself in a forest with nothing to do but run along the right side of the screen – an opening that LIMBO players will recognize as a bit of a reference. From here, you’re expected just to keep on running. You’ve got no goal, nothing to collect, nothing motivating you other than the hope of advancing. Thankfully, because of the decidedly unsettling vibe cultivated by INSIDE, the idea of advancing is appealing enough on its own. Every time you find yourself in an area, you’ll pretty quickly come to the realization that you don’t want to be there anymore, and you’ll go sprinting off as soon as you see the path forward.

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The gameplay of INSIDE is, as I said before, just about as simple as it could possibly be. You move using the left stick, you jump with the A button, and you grab things with the X button. That’s it. You use this combination of moving, jumping, and grabbing to solve puzzles on each stage. The fantastic thing about these puzzles is the way that their solutions are subtly conveyed to you without the use of any narration whatsoever. Not a single word is written or spoken during the entire game, so INSIDE relies entirely on its ability to show, and not tell.

There’s a surprising amount of variation in all of the puzzle mechanics, which serves not just as a strength for the game, but in a way becomes its only real flaw. The variety that the game has is pretty extraordinary in the way that it fits a pretty huge amount of content into what’s ultimately about a 3-hour experience.

There’s just an insane variety of puzzles to get through in this game, and that’s not including the many secrets that there are to discover (which can unlock a very interesting secret ending for you.) INSIDE has you doing surprisingly precise physics based puzzles, avoiding several enemies each with their own unique mechanics, and even manipulating terrain in ways that shake up the way you think about your environment. It all makes the game feel fresh at every turn and ensures that you aren’t getting bored.

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The problem is, however, that this variety in mechanics ends up segmenting the game in a way that feels a little bit off. LIMBO players will probably know what I’m talking about here, as that game had the same thing going on with its pacing. When I think back to my time with INSIDE, I inevitably am always thinking about the game in terms of self-contained clusters that don’t always end up meshing together perfectly.

There are several sections of the game where you’re avoiding enemies with certain mechanics that are never seen again afterwards, or working with puzzle mechanics that get dropped totally after their resolution. While, it by no means makes the game less fun or compelling, it does make it feel like a slightly less cohesive package.

At the end of the day, INSIDE is a game that’s going to take you on a ride. It explores concepts of significant philosophical depth while still giving you a fairly pure and compelling horror experience. If you’re looking for a game that’s willing to make you put on your thinking cap every once in a while, this is definitely something that you should be looking at.

The game builds on its predecessor by introducing interesting new puzzle mechanics as well as bringing back the classics and manages to improve its silent storytelling by improving its appearance and performing some fancy camera work that creates impressive set pieces. If you were a fan of LIMBO and were wondering if INSIDE lived up to expectations, you’re going to be pleased with Playdead’s newest title. Even if you didn’t try LIMBO, INSIDE is the sort of game that’s pretty easy for anybody to get into.

INSIDE has already debuted exclusively for Xbox One members and is going to be releasing to the Steam audience on July 7th. It costs $19.99 USD.

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What did you think of INSIDE?