Giant Bomb Review

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Inside Review

5
  • XONE
  • PC
  • PS4

Playdead's followup to Limbo expands on and improves all of that game's ideas so thoroughly, there's no question why it took six years to get here.

Evil stealth robots are just the start of your troubles.
Evil stealth robots are just the start of your troubles.

At first glance, Playdead's second game Inside seems like a better-looking retread of its breakout indie hit Limbo, in that you're another faceless child who wordlessly starts off in a forest, running to the right while occasionally pushing, pulling, and jumping over things. But you can't spend more than a few minutes with this game before realizing how much Playdead's ambitions, and its ability to fulfill those ambitions, have grown in the six years since Limbo. Inside expands on the concepts and scope of its predecessor in wildly creative ways, and it's so immaculately designed and constructed from top to bottom that it almost feels suitable for display in an art museum. This is one hell of a followup.

It's important to note up front that the tone and presentation of Inside are just like that of Limbo, which is to say it's preeminently focused on having you puzzle-platform your way through beautifully rendered, increasingly grim scenarios at the expense of everything else. You will pick your way through a wide array of different environments, stitched together seemingly at random and oozing with unsettling imagery. You will solve satisfying puzzles in macabre scenarios; you won't be told a coherent story. You may be scratching your head a little when it's all over. If you roll your eyes at games that can even be loosely described as artsy, you should at least know what you're getting into here. Inside takes itself seriously, but it's way too good at everything it does to ever become bogged down in pretension.

I don't know why there are trees in this room.
I don't know why there are trees in this room.

Inside's building blocks--from its core mechanics and controls to minutiae like the achievement design and chapter select--are right out of the Limbo playbook, though Inside diverges from its predecessor in some important ways. Limbo was mostly built around two concepts: relatively simple, physics-based puzzles and challenges, and killing you over and over (and over). The one thing I remember Limbo doing better than any similar puzzle-platformer at the time was making your interactions with the game world grounded and tactile, giving you a feeling of direct control over whatever box, lever, rope, or giant spider leg you were yanking on at the time. Granted, a lot has changed since 2010, and these days there's no shortage of similar puzzle games with nice physics, so another game that simply recycled Limbo's bona fides obviously wouldn't make the same impact today.

Thankfully Inside more than recaptures that uncanny sense of control; it expands on and integrates it even more seamlessly into the way you run around in and touch the world around you, creating bigger and more elaborate puzzles and obstacles than Limbo ever did. You see loving attention to detail throughout this game, and one of my favorite places where that attention manifests is in the way you interact, or rather that you don't interact, with the many objects you can use in your puzzling. Manipulable (is that a word?) objects tend to melt just into the background and let you run right past them, rather than forcing you to tediously climb back and forth over them, but you can still grab and move them around when you need to, and the character animation that happens around all this is just sublime. It's such a minor point that you might not even notice if you aren't a huge nerd about the little ways game design and presentation are constantly evolving and being refined over time, but it's one of the many subtle, elegant touches that make Inside feel like the product of a lot of intense consideration. It makes the game world, fantastical as it is, feel a little more real.

Oh, the places you'll go.
Oh, the places you'll go.

While the mechanics of your control over the environment are familiar, Inside largely drops Limbo's trial-and-error obstacles and its sadistic urge to kill you constantly, and instead stretches its legs with more involved puzzles that in a lot of cases require you to think a little more abstractly about the environment and your ability to manipulate it. Inside isn't riddled with gotcha-style cheap deaths that require too much repetition; there's something more methodical and a bit more cerebral about making your way through most of this game. When you die, it's typically not because you were killed by a devilishly hidden trap, but more likely because you were poking at the options in front of you to see how you could ply them toward a solution, and just pushed things a bit too far. That makes the puzzles less rote and more satisfying to solve. If all this sounds frustratingly vague, it's only because describing specific scenarios would lessen the "oh wow" revelations of discovering them yourself, and those revelations are at the core of what makes this game so enjoyable. Things get weird, though, and then weirder again. So many elements of this game's scenarios and design feel marvelously, searingly creative.

In light of Limbo's sparse, expressionistic art style, the way Inside's look has evolved and expanded might be the most impressive thing about it. The game's art design and presentation are subtle and cohesive even as your travels take you through disparate areas like farmlands, industrial cityscapes, underwater wreckage, and research facilities, and each of these areas advances some of the sinister images and themes you might expect, and quite a few you won't. There's a repeated emphasis on scenes of cruelty and exploitation in an industrial context that give the game a heavy, oppressive tone, and while you aren't exactly fighting any enemies as such, there are some antagonists and adversarial situations that really made my skin crawl.

Things get weird, fast.
Things get weird, fast.

Moreover, the sheer scale of the world here makes Limbo seem like it might as well have been made from paper cutouts. Where that game took an effective less-is-more approach (which may well have owed to the budgetary constraints of a debut indie game), Playdead has gone the other direction here by lavishing an astonishing amount of depth and detail on every inch of the game. There's so much layered scenery in the fore- and background of any given area that you feel like you could reach all the way into it up to your elbow. It's an appropriately drab game, but there are spare uses of bright lighting that occasionally remind you that the boy is in fact wearing a red shirt. It's a side-scroller so of course you view it from the side, but occasional, slight camera moves and changes in perspective contribute to consistently interesting scene composition and framing. Much like Limbo, the whole thing has a soft focus that makes it easy to forget it's built out of polygons, frequently taking on the character of a piece of moving artwork. I have no compunction about calling Inside a visual masterpiece.

It feels strange to talk so little in specific about a game I'm so impressed by, and I could write a review three times as long citing examples like the first time you put on that... ah, forget it. This is less a nod to overly sensitive spoiler culture and more an acknowledgement of Inside as a work of singular creativity and meticulous design, one of those games where the more it surprises you, the more it'll impress you. I have a hard time coming up with much, other than a conclusion that left me wanting a little more, that this game could do better. It's that question of the gap between ambition and fulfillment, a gap which here is all but nonexistent. Looking at and playing Inside gives the feeling that every surface, every animation, every light and pixel were placed and replaced until they all fit together just right. You see where the six years went. I can't even picture what kind of game Playdead could make another six years from now.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+

104 Comments

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Springfart

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BeachThunder

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BeachThunder • 

Interesting. I wonder how many games will be better than this this year.

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dsouvannarath

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dsouvannarath • 

Ugh I wish this was out today instead of tomorrow!

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NTM

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Edited By NTM • 

I didn't love Limbo, so I don't know.

Edit - Watching the quick look; this looks similar, but also much more interesting already. The thing I didn't like about Limbo was that, although it had a unique style, all it was about was running through areas of the map and doing puzzles, maybe dying to learn what you should do.

I didn't find what themes that were there to be represented in a way that made me care, and the story about whoever the girl was, was ambiguous, where I wouldn't have been able to tell who it was if I hadn't read about it outside of the game. It again, made it hard for me to care. So in the end, all there was to care about was the puzzling, which just wasn't that fun to me.

Looking at Inside, even though it might do the Limbo thing of being ambiguous, it seems to be more visually telling, bringing out a specific feeling about the situation.

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TruckSimulator

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RonGalaxy

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Jesus_Phish

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Edited By Jesus_Phish • 

I really disliked Limbo and don't get what people saw in it at all. I'm skeptical about this release although it sounds more interesting than Limbo ever did.

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Castiel

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Edited By Castiel • 

@rongalaxy said:

Hope this comes to ps4.

Me too, buddy. Me too. But if Limbo was any indication we'll have to wait at least one year, if not a little longer, to play it. That is if this game will ever get a PS4 release at all.

This is the most interesting exclusive Microsoft has.

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BetaBand

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bigwinnerx

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bigwinnerx • 

Limbo was rad. Looking forward to this one. Nice review, rudds.

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ATastySlurpee

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ATastySlurpee • 

Glad this is coming to Windows 10( albeit a few weeks from now) since I don't have an X1 anymore.

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Humanity

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Humanity • 

I really disliked Limbo and don't get what people saw in it at all. I'm skeptical about this release although it sounds more interesting than Limbo ever did.

Personally I thought it was a solid puzzle-platformer with a great art style and a really grounded sense of "weight" to a lot of the physics based puzzles. Moving around was just tactile enough where it wasn't just mindlessly making your way over some jumps or pushing some boxes. Also the creepily dissonant atmosphere helped to keep me intrigued as to where it's all going to go in the end. In the case of Limbo specifically it was a "the journey was more important than the destination" sort of situation.

Which is why Inside looks really interesting to me as well.

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robotmayo

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robotmayo • 

#Brad5

I cant wait to get my hands on this, I was intrigued ever since the original trailer.

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dgtlty

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dgtlty • 

Inside is finally here! Great review, Brad.

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Jesus_Phish

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Jesus_Phish • 

@humanity:It just didn't grab me and it probably didn't help that I left it for about two years after release to play it. By then I'd heard nothing but praise for it so as I was playing it, I kept wondering "when is this going to get me?". And it never did. It's one of the few games I felt I had to force myself to play through to finish.

It's not that it was a poorly made game (though some of the later puzzle felt very cheap), but it just couldn't do anything to make me reflect on it other than it's not doing it for me.

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paulmako

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paulmako • 

Well this came out of nowhere for me. But I'm immediately interested, I liked Limbo. The spider moment in that game is an unsung classic.

Nice review!

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mrcraggle

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mrcraggle • 

I liked Limbo but I wasn't blown away by it like some people were. For me it was the shift in style. Spoilers ahead for those who haven't played it. The game opens and you're this small boy alone in woods. The stark art style helps push this narrative. You're attacked by this unknown children directly and through their traps. Eventually you find yourself in a much more industrial area with futuristic technology. The questions that are raised in the first half are never answered and the swift is just jarring.

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CabooseMSG

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CabooseMSG • 

Uggh i want to play this thing. Is there any good reason its coming out tomorrow instead of today?

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Humanity

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Edited By Humanity • 

@jesus_phish: Sometimes that just happens, I've gone through similar situations involving a lot of high profile much praised games in the past.

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KaneRobot

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KaneRobot • 

God bless America and the Xbox.

Extremely rare to see this many 5 star reviews in this short of a time period. Shame on Star Fox and Homefront for muddying up our brief modern day utopia.

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Grimluck343

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Grimluck343 • 

Super excited to try this out, Limbo was one of my favorite games last gen.

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liquiddragon

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liquiddragon • 

I just realized besides Brothers, I consider Limbo the most overrated downloadable title lol. I love the look of this game so I hope to try it some day and I hope I'll like it.

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Firepaw

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Firepaw • 

I loved Limbo back in the day, and I still love it when I played it yesterday. Glad to see that Inside was worth the wait :)

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GrayFoxbr

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Fitzgerald

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Fitzgerald • 

Yeah for the first time ever the Xbox has something I want that PS4 doesn't have. Here's hoping a PS4 version shows up next year.

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Joe_McCallister

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Joe_McCallister • 

Wow - seeing nothing but glowing reviews for this. Can't say it struck a huge chord with me initially but it's hard to deny the reviews so far. May have to pick it up if I don't buy more games I don't need in this Steam sale. Thanks Brad, great review!

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avantegardener

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avantegardener • 

Video game review, wwwhat?! Sorry its been awhile.

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Ravelle

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Ravelle • 

Well, I guess I have a new game on my to play list.

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hassun

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hassun • 

This is a pleasant surprise. Not that I was expecting a bad game from Playdead but still.

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scottygrayskull

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scottygrayskull • 

Nice! Limbo was the kind of game I'd only play once (aside from finishing off the achievements), but it was a great experience. I'll give this one a shot! :D

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darkjester74

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darkjester74 • 

Nice! Im sure this will come to PS4 eventually, looking forward to it!

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ripelivejam

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snackbar

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snackbar • 

Wow, thanks for the well written review. I will be checking this game out for sure!

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Geralt

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Edited By Geralt • 

Whew...PC release. I thought I'd have to buy another console.

Wii U...you're still on the list.

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militantfreudian

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militantfreudian • 

I was really interested in this, but then I played Limbo last year. I think I would've liked it more if I had played it when it came out in 2010. My main complaint — like Brad said — was that the puzzles were rather simplistic, so I'm glad it's not the case with this one. Anyway, Inside looks good; I already love the sound design and I agree with Brad regarding the shot composition.

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Edited By villo • 

Thanks, added to my wishlist. I'm glad the PC release is just a week away.

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PillClinton

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PillClinton • 

1 week sure is a hell of an exclusivity period for Xbone. Anyway, very happy it's coming to PC in such a timely manner.

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Haz

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Haz • 

I loved Limbo and would have loved to play this if it was on a platform I owned. It sounds like a great follow up game.

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rojano17

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rojano17 • 

Is this coming to Steam? D:

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riostarwind  Moderator • 

Good to know that this is a worthy follow up to Limbo. It really looks like the Playdead team made a well rounded spiritual sequel that goes to some wild places as the narrative continues. I don't think I'll be playing this day one but I'm sure that I will end up buying it one day.

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Humanity

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octocoq

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octocoq • 

I'm so excited to play this! Why couldn't it be out today!?

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Dunchad

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Dunchad • 

I really wonder what kind of nefarious deal has @brad entered into, in which he only gets 4 and 5 star games to review. Did he sell his soul? Who did he sell it to? Jeff? Is Jeff the Devil?

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xrayzwei

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xrayzwei • 

Wait this is out? Or even out this week?!?

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Excitable_Misunderstood_Genius

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CyberKN

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CyberKN • 

"...you won't be told a coherent story. You may be scratching your head a little when it's all over."

Pass.

Why do so many indie games have esoteric and impenetrable narratives?

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YummyTreeSap

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YummyTreeSap • 
@cyberkn said:

"...you won't be told a coherent story. You may be scratching your head a little when it's all over."

Pass.

Why do so many indie games have esoteric and impenetrable narratives?

Because questions are more interesting than answers, because having everything explicitly laid out is narratively dull and insulting, because humanity and life itself very rarely have clean resolutions.

There's no doubt that some indie games leave a person scratching their head because the story is outright underdeveloped, but I trust this one.

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mrsmiley

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mrsmiley • 

Yay, an Xbox exclusive I care about! :P

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lowestformofwit

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lowestformofwit • 

The one thing I loved about Limbo was that it made you feel smart when you conquered a puzzle as they were balanced in a way that wasn't obtuse. I felt really good about getting the achievement for finishing it in one sitting, dying less than 5 times, that really felt like an achievement. I look forward to this new venture greatly.