From the outset it’s clear that Inside wears the heritage of Limbo, developer Playdead’s first title, on its sleeve.
You start off in a forest, with no idea who you are, how you go there, or what you’re supposed to do. Left with no options, you start moving to the right. You probably find the jump button during this quiet time, though you really have no impetus to jump just yet. In time the need to interact with the environment adds another control – grasping and pushing/pulling objects – and your control scheme is all but complete without ever displaying a ‘push A’ or ‘hold B’ to break up the immersion.
The entire game revolves around actions that feel instinctive. You hide from pursuers without being prompted. A dog barks and you run, looking for safety wherever you can find it. A dog suddenly closes in and you push harder on the analog stick, willing the boy to run faster and he does, his normal run turning into a scrambling dash that’s brilliantly animated. It’s at this point that Playdead have you – the feedback loop of having what you wanted to have happen actually happen, even though you really did nothing to influence it as pushing harder has no effect at all, cements you solidly into the game.
Calling Inside a puzzle-platformer might be technically correct, but it feels more like a cinematic experience than Limbo ever was. Angles, lighting, and audio play key roles in influencing the direction you’ll go and the mood you’ll feel. There are times when the backing track of noise builds at a steady pace, gradually setting your nerves on edge, and others where it suddenly crashes into action – the trap sprung and your adrenaline surging as you frantically search the surroundings for a way to escape your predicament.
The puzzles also put Limbo to shame, a far cry from the one-note trial and error sadism of Limbo’s near constant deaths and requirement for pinpoint accuracy on jumps. While you start out pushing blocks, you branch into controlling others to flip switches and move large objects, and toy with some gravity/water puzzles that had me stumped more than once. The solution is always right there, but it can be difficult to wrap your head around the more elaborate ones. Puzzle game aficionados might find them simple, but I think it’s a good mix for most gamers.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt like I should talk so little about game specifics, as I don’t want to spoil a moment of it for you. Inside is a remarkable second effort from Playdead, surprisingly outshining their first outing, and a must play. It starts as a master class in tension and ends with a half-hour run of action that’s simply unforgettable. Available now on Xbox One, the version reviewed using retail code provided by the publisher. Also coming to PC on July 7th.