A world, broken at the hands of technological progress, decays in silence and darkness. Cowed and enslaved people shuffle mindlessly through the streets.Overseers dressed in masks and black clothes stand at the corners, waiting for one of the slaves to fall out of line, watching the soulless masses as they are forced to jump and dance.
A featureless boy in the midst of it all walks through this dystopia wearing a red shirt, one of the only touches of color in this oppressive world.
This is Inside, the second game from Limbo developer Playdead. Like Limbo, the gameplay is simple: you have to walk, jump, and grab objects in order to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles.
Ultimately, however, the game is about your journey through a tyrannical, unknowable, and apocalyptic world. Over the course of a few hours, you descend ever deeper into the heart of a malicious and immense construct that threatens to suffocate agency and humanity.
Successor to Limbo
Limbo followed a character moving through a strange and primitive land. Death came easily to the character, but it rarely felt like murder. Inside, on the other hand, exudes violence, cruelty, and artifice. The game highlights the old and shattered parts of a society that you discover has been dragged into a hell of human experimentation.
As you progress through Inside, you experience stretches of quiet and calm punctuated by flashes of complete absurdity. The game encourages you to relish these often shocking or brutal twists, which incite feelings of revulsion and confusion.
They make you want to know more. Inside drips atmosphere and effortless world-building. You’ll find no audio logs or graffiti written on walls in blood here, as Inside trades in subtler, more ambiguous hints at its true nature.
A handcrafted experience
The game is full of moments that feel truly handcrafted — it’s not the longest game in the world, but it’s packed with countless memorable set pieces that I remembered with perfect clarity my second time through.
The game is riddled with bespoke details, like knocking over a rusted refrigerator in a forest and watching leaves fly into the air, that have no gameplay relevance but exist just to add to a sense of place. For a game this beautiful and physics-driven, it’s a startlingly responsive one, whose animations perfectly straddle the line between looking convincing and feeling great — a rare feat.
Solving puzzles can be as simple as moving a box up to the base of a high ledge in order to jump up to the top, or as complex as synchronizing multiple automatons to flip switches, lift objects, and move carts so that you can open a door.
Haunting and beautiful
There comes a time when Inside leans too heavily on its puzzles to keep you engaged. In these moments, I felt that one’s driving motivation had shifted from exploring the world to simply flipping the right switch. It’s a problem that plagued Limbo, and Inside nearly falls into a similar trap in its middle act when it takes you deep underground.
You must complete the game’s most time-consuming puzzles during its most narrative-light sections, and the suspense that the game worked so hard to build nearly falls apart.
This is a beautiful, haunting, and memorable game, a worthy follow-up to Limbo. Its puzzles, although rarely difficult, are engaging complements to the story.
The real achievement of this game, though, is the way that it crafts its narrative: detailed environments convey the bizarre world that you travel through; introspective moments are filled with minimalist sound design and just the barest touches of music; and the things you must do to complete your journey force you to confront the realities of humanity, freedom, and existence.