Inside (2016)

Six years have passed since Playdead released their first game, Limbo, which I talked about here. Playdead’s new game, Inside, follows the same formula as Limbo. They are both very moody, dark, and disturbing puzzle-platformers. I was a little hesitant going into Inside even though it received fantastic reviews because in my opinion Limbo fell a little flat. After playing Inside, I can safely say it greatly improved upon the preexisting formula from Limbo. Overall, the strengths and weaknesses of Inside seem to mirror Limbo with some improvements. However, most importantly Inside has introduced a stunning narrative element. I am going to keep this review spoiler-free, as Inside has a lot of mystery and intrigue that I do not want to ruin for anybody.

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The most memorable and impressive element in Inside was its ability to tell a gripping story without any dialogue. You are dropped into a surreal and dystopian world with no idea what is happening or what your goal is. You quickly progress from area to area, watching what is happening in the background, until you start to piece together the plot. I loved the fact that you have to draw clues and hints from the environment instead of a story just being read to you through dialogue. Even if you pay close attention to everything that is occurring around you, a lot is open to interpretation. The game is purposefully ambiguous and leaves plenty to your imagination to piece together and figure out. The dimly-lit world and art style of Inside serves to compliment its central themes. The underlying motif of the game is all about control and conformity but how it is interpreted is all up to the player, and that is the beauty of Inside.

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While Inside did a great job with its environment and story, it suffered similar issues to its predecessor, Limbo. Both of these games suffer in the gameplay department. Inside still has a few of those trial-and-error puzzles that plagued Limbo, but thankfully they have been significantly reduced. The bigger issue for Inside was its lack of difficulty. There were many different puzzle elements and concepts which kept the game interesting through the means of variety, thankfully. The game would introduce these creative new elements and spend awhile doing simple puzzles to let the player get a hang of the new element. Then they would drop the element and move onto something else entirely. Nothing seemed to move past the basics, and the game infrequently combines elements to make for more complex puzzles. I never felt like the game was getting progressively more difficult and complex, as a puzzle game should. The gameplay was not bad, it just got a little dull and slow after awhile.

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Ultimately, Inside was a great little game. It only takes three to four hours to complete, but it is an extremely memorable experience. The depressing and cryptic world of Inside is unforgettable. It is beautifully crafted and animated, and its commentary on control and conformity is phenomenal. I would definitely check out this game if you are into moody, mysterious, and ambiguous stories. If you are into more fast-paced action or gameplay oriented games, Inside is probably not for you. For these reasons, I am going to give Inside an 8/10. It was a strange little game, and I really enjoyed it.

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Limbo (2010)

Limbo is a puzzle-platformer from the Danish independent developers: Playdead. The game is dark, mysterious, and horrifying. A young boy is tossed into a hostile world, and the player must navigate deadly puzzles and environments to escape. I thought the gameplay was alright, but it did have quite a few issues in that department. However, Limbo really shined in its atmosphere and its visuals.

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I quite liked the unique art direction in Limbo. The entire game is made up of black and white silhouettes and it solidifies the dark and dingy atmosphere. The world’s hostility is apparent from the start: everything is trying to kill you. Giant spiders, terrifying machinery, mind-controlling parasites, and other children are all trying to hunt you down. There is no music, only ambient sounds that could send a chill down your spine. Watching your character get impaled by a giant spider and flung across the sky just about sums up what this game has in store for the player. The atmosphere and visuals melded into one creepy and disturbing experience.

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The gameplay of Limbo fell a little flat in my opinion. It was a puzzle-platformer, but neither the puzzles nor the platforming were really anything special. The platforming required quite a bit of precision, which is fine, but the character himself is quite awkward so it can be difficult to judge what jumps are possible and what jumps are not. The puzzles had a decent amount of variety which I enjoyed and there were quite a few great puzzles.  Unfortunately, most of the puzzles just ended up being trial-and-error. Often times the puzzle boils down to: “What does this switch do? Oh, it kills you unless you move that box to a specific location beforehand”. There was really no way of knowing how to solve many of the puzzles without dying first. This was really unfortunate as the whole atmosphere of the game was supposed to be disturbing and horrifying, which it was until I figured out that I just needed to run head first into everything and die to make any progress. Things tend to be a lot less scary when they go from “Oh god how do I stop this from killing me?” to “Well I have to let it kill me before I can see the solution”. Luckily, there were plenty of well-placed checkpoints that kept deaths from heavily impeding on progress. The other issue I had with the gameplay was it was just… slow. The main character walked slowly, death scenes (as plentiful as they were) were drawn out, and a large chunk of the game was just pushing around boxes and climbing ropes.

Overall, I think Limbo was alright. For a quick three to four hour game, it does a great job of setting the mood and being memorable. Thanks to its art direction and its atmosphere, Limbo was certainly unique. There is also a sort of beauty in the game’s overall simplicity. I just wish the gameplay held up a little bit better. If you are into moody and dark games, then I would definitely recommend Limbo. If you are looking for great puzzles or platforming, I would look elsewhere.