Inside, the next instalment of psychological puzzle-platformer game from the indie developers Playdead, makers of the critically acclaimed Limbo; it made its debut at Microsoft’s E3 conference 2014, on centre stage, surprising everyone. Fast forward 2 years on and here we are, scratching our heads, scrambling for hidden meanings, just wanting to know what it all means and how it all connects. This will include spoilers.
Looking the the controls are extremely simplistic, you don’t need to re-map your keyboard settings, or controller you just need 3 things, movement, jump and interact. I would highly recommend you play with a controller as I think you get the most out of the game with one, but the keyboard is manageable, just not as immersive I’d say.
After acquainting yourself with the simple settings, eerie music and the nice fact that the game runs seemingly good on all systems you are thrown into the beginning of the game, a dark mysterious forest, and introduced to the protagonist of Inside. This protagonist is a child and is a little special in the way he looks, he has no facial features, his face is blank and the design of the character is extremely simple, so much so you can project yourself onto this child quite easily.
Playdead the perfect decision for the child to be a blank slate for the players to project onto, putting themselves in the role and emotions the child is facing throughout the game. It is probably the best aspect of Inside, a simple design choice that makes the most of the setting and underlying plot Inside narrates. The forest really does set the tone of Inside, unknown forest location and endless questions instantly popping into your head, the main one I think I asked myself was “Why am I here?”.
Immediately after I found myself asking “What is going on?” as you are put into a sense of danger, or a feeling of your not supposed to be where you are, this is backed up by two yet again faceless people talking then searching for you, or the source of the noise you made. This is followed by haunting music that is there and beautifully done throughout Inside, by Playdead’s composer Martin Stig Andersen, and also starts the setting of you really are somewhere you are not supposed to be and will be killed or captured if caught by these adults without faces.
You are then introduced to puzzle solving within Inside, one of the main aspects of gameplay it uses, as well as thinking with your mind when trying to get around an obstacle in the players way, and how to utilise the environment to solve the puzzle ahead. These are done in a new way but similar to Limbo in you get no hints as how to solve, but everything you need to do or have is right in front of you or near by, in this case it’s a fridge.
After this sequence things really ramp up in the game, you are given a sense of dread and fear quickly and have to make leaps of faith numerous times, even stop in a situation you would not typically not think to stop to get away from danger. This is all constantly leading up to a chase scene that makes the faceless adults shoot at you, a child, giving more questions like “What the hell has happened in the world?” Inside revels in this fact of giving questions and not answering them, leaving a lot of open interpretation.
At the end of the climax chase scene you leap off a cliff into a vastness of water, the music also climaxes here following the fear and danger of death snapping at your heels into nothingness as soon as you plunge into the water. The use of sound design and the transition from despair to hope under the water is the best scene at the end of this first segment of Inside, it builds up to that one moment extremely well and boast the wonder and weirdness of this world this child lives in.
After loosing yourself from the adults looking for you you exit the lake and are confronted my dead pigs, quite ominous and then it rains as you traverse through towards a farm since abandoned and desolate besides the dead carcasses of pigs. You are also followed by some little yellow chicks? At least I think they are chicks, they chirp like chicks but seem mechanical in a sense, they become your clingy friends and follow you around before you climb into a barn.
In the barn you are confronted by another puzzle this time you have to use a multiple of things, it takes little time to figure out and the little yellow chicks help, you then go further into the farm toward a unknown location to you but the child seems to know. You fall into a place where there are parasites inside the dead pigs, this gave me a weird sense of a creepy, this is wrong feeling and also a “Where is am I going?” question, you then come to probably the creepiest scene in the start of the game.
This one scene made this game for me, it showed a innocent child in a world that apparently has been destroyed, or had some horrible disease occur, then the added creepy weirdness of the pigs and then controlling mindless people who do your bidding when you use a mind control devise. This made me think, and say out loud, “What the hell is this game, this is so creepy” it just made me feel uneasy, and this set the precedent on the rest of the game, feeling uneasy and what the rest of this game may hold, or just what it will hold, and if I will get any answers.
This is also another major gameplay mechanic throughout Inside and is used extensively to solve puzzles and get to things otherwise not accessible, all of this is given to the player before they access the main place of the game and that is a factory, or complex of some sort. The child looks at a line of faceless mindless adults being brought into this huge place, for what reason exactly, I do not know, not even after finishing Inside twice it is totally weird as to why they are being sent here.
Although the title of the game is put into gameplay, you literally go inside of this place where these people are being taken, I get a sense of to get someone out, perhaps his parents who were taken. Inside this place you go from hiding from electric tethering robot spotlights, to jumping across rooftops, however you get into a bad situation and are put into a conga line of mindless people, having to play along with the mindless act.
Further down this conga line you have to do simon says tasks, jumping and turning around and back again as well as walking in sequence and in pace along with the other mindless people the child is surrounded by. This is unnerving, you are being watched by onlookers judging these mindless people for what? To be used as servants for labour and a workforce, that what we did at the farm, Inside hits a lot of questions, this being the highest of them all and is the most unsettling about what exactly are these people being used for and how do they get them.
You continue along the game, going to the depths of the factory, using these mindless people and a very unique timed mechanic, each of these are great parts of the game and you feel like you are not playing a game at all but a narrative. You are playing this child story, and story is very gripping and made me play on and on, even after failing the same puzzle again and again, this was because of the questions and them maybe being answered down the line through this complex story and intuitive gameplay.
The aesthetic compared to Limbo is much better in my opinion, Playdead decided to the Unity engine for Inside instead of it’s own engine it used in Limbo, and you can tell this is a much more elegant, and the use of foreground and background assets are used atmospherically to very good effect. It also holds a lot around the scenes in Inside, you can miss people walking in the distance, weird things happening off to the sides, as well as hidden areas within the dark areas you traverse in Inside.
Within these hidden areas there are disco ball devices, or something, they emit light and you go up to it and pull out it’s power making it no longer light up, these hidden devices are used to reveal Inside’s secret ending, one that hugely differs from the common ending. Seeing both endings, and reading, and hearing thoughts and rumours about what Inside means, and what the endings mean to the story and why the game portrays itself the way it does is much what the developers at Playdead wanted the game to produce, a conversation about what each player feels about the reason the game ended those ways, and why.
They did a similar thing in Limbo, some say it portrayed fear, the crippling emotion we all feel in everyday situations and how the extreme of that can effect each person differently. Inside portrays, some say, control, the control that others have on us in our everyday lives, the control the world puts us in and not being able to be set free without something horrible happen, so much that you are warped and different on the other side if you always try to be free.
At least this is what I got from the game, like I said each person I’ve spoken to about it has differing opinions, and that is why this game hits all the right notes, from a gameplay standpoint, narrative setting and the way it gives you no hints, you have to do it all by yourself and accomplish these goals by yourself. All in all Inside is an extremely diverse and gripping game, yet again Playdead have brought us something we will be talking about years to come, what we felt about it and no doubt why it was our favourite game, mechanic, story and sound design wise.