Inside builds on every strength of Playdead’s Limbo, while also delivering a compelling yet haunting world filled with smart puzzles and inventive mechanics.
Released back in 2010, Playdead Studios’ Limbo was the game that essentially paved the way for countless indies to find success on consoles. It was a pioneer not just in concept, but its gameplay and striking visuals established Limbo as something special, regardless of budget or development team. Now, Playdead is back with its follow-up to Limbo, titled Inside. And while the studio has borrowed some ideas from Limbo’s lead, it has also delivered something special. Inside is very much the spiritual successor to Limbo that fans were hoping for, in both its evolution of gameplay, expansion of visual style, and its quality as an indie.
From a visuals and story perspective, Inside is very much cut from the same cloth as Limbo. Players take control of a nameless young man who is exploring a dark and dreary landscape. In this case, the atmosphere features a cavernous dystopian city (or factory) with some underwater and forest sections sprinkled throughout. It’s unclear what exactly the young man is looking for or doing, but as players progress through the 2.5D side scroller there will be enough hints as to the larger truths.
Without giving too much away, it’s fair to say that the world of Inside highlights a totalitarian society where mind control is possible. It’s unclear what differentiates those susceptible to mind control and those who are not, but for the player the former will be useful and the latter will be terrifying. If it’s sentient, it’s dangerous in Inside, and these various enemies (some of whom are best left unspoiled) will relentlessly pursue the player. And should the young man get caught, rest assured a violent death or capture is waiting on the other side.
The world of Inside is genuinely terrifying, with oppressive foreground elements obscuring the player’s vision and untold horrors lurking in each new area. But it’s also oddly compelling, as players reveal more and more layers of the game’s narrative. Players will want to dig deeper into this world, but caution is an essential component for survival.
Cautious play is also one of the key tenets of Inside’s puzzles, which oftentimes require the player make decisions in small batches. For example, players may need to turn a wheel a little bit and then retreat to safety before being caught, and then continue their progress when safe. There are also puzzles that require the player kite their enemies into different positions, so that when they do progress there is enough space to get free.
While stealth puzzles are nothing new for the world of side scrollers, Inside’s approach to them feels wholly original. There’s a sense of urgency to each action, forcing players to think carefully before they do anything. It also helps that Inside actually creates tension through its music and sound effects work.
Alongside those stealth-like sections, Inside’s most standout feature is its use of mind control to create truly inventive puzzles. Essentially, the player character dons a mind control cap and is able to influence any non-sentient body. It may not be a completely new mechanic, but what Inside does with the mind control is endlessly clever.
In truth, Inside’s puzzles as a whole never repeat, never retread the same ideas, and are all fun to unpack. There’s a general sense that each puzzle has been carefully constructed so that the solution is apparent to the player but never completely obvious. Sometimes those puzzles are fairly simple in nature, and other times they require a multi-step process, but the most important thing is that each puzzle drives the player forward.
That, combined with a wonderfully realized world that mixes stark shadows with splashes of muted color, makes Inside a one-of-a-kind experience. Playdead played to its strengths by delivering something that would feel familiar to Limbo fans, but ensured that the experience evolves as players progress and that it never rehashes old ideas. In a lot of ways, Inside feels like the sequel to Limbo that isn’t actually a sequel. It calls up a lot of the same feelings and delivers great entertainment throughout, but it’s actually very different in some key ways.
No doubt, though, Inside is yet another banner downloadable release for the Xbox console, and easily one of the best indie experiences delivered on any platform. Its puzzle design is smart, the visuals are striking, the world is haunting and memorable, and it’s the perfect bite-sized experience. Put simply: play this game.
Inside releases June 28, 2016 for Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One review code for this review.