Inside: Limbo++

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Two weeks ago I returned from work to find Tim Lee sitting on the couch playing Inside. Joining him on his merry adventure, we spent three nights powering through the main story plus the game’s hidden content. Thanks Tim. You saved me $20.

Inside is essentially a follow-up to Playdead’s previous indie darling Limbo, and the games are similar in most ways. You control a boy in search of some unspecified thing in a monochromatic, hostile world. It’s a side-scrolling puzzle platformer where, like Limbo, the world will try its best to kill you in whatever way possible. Limbo‘s gruesome deaths return here – along the way you’ll be tazed, shot, drowned, and mauled by dogs (among other things). You’ll even recognize a couple of familiar environments, such as the forest at the start of the game, and jumping across rooftops adorned with bold, neon letters.

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Inside, however, is a far more polished product than its predecessor. The world’s setting is more cohesive than the seemingly random obstacles of Limbo, with a shadowy corporation hounding you as you navigate the game’s hazardous environments. These mystery men appear to harvest mindless humans for unknown purposes, with bizarre experimentation and slave labor both equally likely candidates. Like Limbo, however, there’s basically no narrative going on beyond what you can see in game, so expect to fill some gaps with your imagination. If you prefer games with cut and dry stories, Inside is not for you.

Inside‘s bleakly dystopian atmosphere is accentuated by the desaturated graphics, which are a vast improvement over Limbo‘s already impressive artwork. In all honesty, the visual style in this game is stunning. The animation is as smooth as butter, with each shimmy and stumble looking like it was pulled from mo-cap. Your character’s red shirt serves as the only real color in an otherwise black and white landscape, and the shift to 3D graphics allows the artists to portray a fuller world than would have otherwise been possible on flat 2D.

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There’s also is something intoxicating about single-level side scrollers. The unbroken progression compels you to move forward, propelling you to see what’s ahead of the next door. The puzzles are fairly intuitive, allowing you to move forward at a quick yet consistent pace. There’s a deliberate sense of escalation as you gradually move toward your final goal. And man, is the ending totally worth the effort. It’s outrageous. They could have made an entire game out of the last 15 minutes alone and I would have played it.

As a plus, there are also 13 hidden orbs scattered throughout the game that can be searched for after the game is done using the game’s checkpoint system. Hunting these down gave Tim and I a few extra hours of enjoyment, and solving the game’s final secret puzzle without help was deeply satisfying. Seriously, we felt like fucking geniuses.

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One of the things I constantly pointed out to Tim was each environment’s sense of scale. Although you are locked to a two-dimensional plane, the underground compound you explore seems to branch off in every direction. Lonely hallways stretch off into the distance before cutting sharply down dark, unearthed corridors. Large expanses of office space lie flooded, unused, and neglected. The facility itself is vast and monolithic in its construction, nothing but cold iron and concrete. And yet, the game is so sparsely populated by other people, one can’t help but feel a sharp sense of abandonment. It endows the game with a sense of isolation the way Portal 2‘s abandoned labs felt utterly haunted.

Oddly enough, the soundtrack was created by routing sound through a human skull and recording the sound, a process composer Martin Stig Andersen calls “bone-conducting”. Beyond all belief, the result is actually pretty pleasant to listen to, although the soundtrack is so minimal I only recall hearing a musical cue twice during the entire game. Whatever, I’ll never understand Danish people.

Atmospheric indie games are kind of a dime a dozen these days, though, so it’s hard to say what specifically sets Inside above the rest. If you happen to enjoy puzzle platformers, then you can’t go wrong with Inside. It’s production values are stellar, and it’s a fun game to play from start to finish. It also won’t take you 30 hours to finish, so if you’re an important adult with many import adult things to do (like me), it’s pure ambrosia.

The Bottom Line: If you liked Limbo, you’ll love Inside.

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