The Great Balancing Act
In 2010 Playdead hit the xbla scene hard with their first release Limbo. The studio was among the first influx of independent developers that would lead to the tidal wave of indie games that would follow for the coming years. Limbo had a very striking look, using contrasting blacks and whites to generate a look that can be described as silhouette-esque, which drew people in. The game itself was rather simple, you jump, grab, and move to solve puzzles while avoiding various one hit kills. At the time it was incredible, there was not yet the overabundance of indie platformers that there are now.
Almost six years later Playdead released Inside. In essence, it's extremely similar to Limbo. You jump, run, and grab your way through puzzles for example. However, it is evident where those six years went for the small Danish developer. The most obvious difference from limbo is insides art style. It has this almost painterly look, I would even describe it as a recreation of watercolor through digital means. Things have this softness to them but the contrast between colors, backgrounds, and characters is simply enjoyable to see. It has the same muted color scheme that half-life 2 had in that some areas look drab while still remaining interesting while other areas seem to utilize light and shadow to great effect.
Inside's strongest component is probably the way that each moment is extremely hand crafted while still feeling like the player has control. Where did those six years go? I suppose most of them went here; in the design itself. Moments like walking through the trees, hearing a dog bark, and then running for your life only to barely escape the jaws of defeat by jumping off a cliff are numerous in Inside. There are numerous chase scenes in inside and almost all have a deliberate tension that causes you to feel as if you've only just made it. One wrong step in the direction and the moment might not be as impactful, Either because you feel you had no real effect on the moment, or you feel no tension because you were able to almost skip the threat entirely. Inside carefully balances the scripted moment and player freedom in order to generate the feelings that Playdead intended. Direction is extremely hard in games (good old ludonarrative dissonance) because players usual have a lot of say in what goes on. Take too much of that choice away and you start to lose what makes a game a game. Inside handles this masterfully.
The gameplay and puzzles in Inside are fairly enjoyable. There are no hair-pullers, no metapuzzles, and no rules to learn. Pull a box, or stand on a switch. Inside’s puzzles are simple, but they serve their purpose. The game is short enough so they don’t feel like busy work and long enough to have its effect, tell its story. Platforming is fairly minimal but does appear from time to time.
But the thing that makes Inside really special are the moments. Insides story is not directly told, similar to Playdead’s breakout hit, but players are allowed to interpret what they will, with what they are presented. Anytime you reach a new area, everything feels new, nothing feels repeated, even in the gameplay. You’re constantly marching right to experience something fresh, tantalizing, and beautiful. Inside is disturbing in portions, but those moments still have this exciting feel that leads one to become more interested. The finale of Inside alone, warrants its existence. Strong, sudden, fast, and memorable, the finale utilizes those first few hours of Inside to create one of the best sequences in a game yet.
Inside is a game that knows exactly what it is. It doesn’t try to be shorter or longer than it needs to be. It isn’t unsure of whether there should be more puzzles or more semi-scripted moments. It doesn’t question its intentions. Its moments all have a reason to exist, something to say. Inside is a game that knows exactly what it is: Marvelous.