All is not right in the world of INSIDE, which features a boy on the run. Quite what he’s done, where he is, and what he’s fleeing from (or running to) is unclear. All that’s certain is every single thing in this world – including the very landscape – wants to see him die.
The initial scenes take place in a forest. Rain pours down, and dogs and armed men are in hot pursuit. Your heart pumps as the boy runs, stumbles over a log, and promptly gets torn to shreds. Then the screen fades, and you’re urged to try again.
It’s Groundhog Day in hell. And if that sounds a lot like LIMBO, you’re not wrong. INSIDE often mirrors its predecessor, in being a relentless journey, filled with platforms, traps and puzzles. It’s bleak, morbid, beautiful, exciting and frustrating. But unlike LIMBO, INSIDE can’t hide behind a fantastical façade.
Alone in the dark
Because of this nod towards realism, INSIDE comes across as more chilling than LIMBO – and can make for an uncomfortable gaming experience. The dystopia the boy finds himself in is unremittingly grim – a place where a farm contains heaped animal corpses, and doddering zombie-like figures march under the command of human masters.
But it is ceaselessly intriguing. With LIMBO, I was always interested in the next scene, discovering increasingly inventive ways for the protagonist to get impaled. INSIDE, though, has a much more compelling premise, to the point the most interesting puzzle is almost trying to figure out what’s going on – not least when you discover helmets dangling from a ceiling that enable you to control the shuffling zombies.
That’s not to dismiss INSIDE’s puzzles, though. While they’re typically heavily reliant on choreography and timing, and based around little more than jumping and switches, there’s a deviousness to the game. This is a title where everything is blazingly obvious in hindsight, but where you may at times stare blankly at the screen, wondering how to get past the next obstacle.
Mostly, this works very nicely as the game mixes up pacing. Sometimes, it’s reminiscent of a 2.5D Mirror’s Edge, as you gracefully leap between conveniently constructed pathways. Elsewhere, the adventure slows to a crawl as you drag objects, and mull over whatever contraptions you find.
Occasionally, INSIDE stumbles like its protagonist in those opening scenes. A few sections felt off to me, and became painful to play through however many times it took until I managed to pull off the exact sequence of moves, without the slightly twitchy touchscreen controls randomly making the boy jump to his doom.
It’s during these episodes that the illusion is broken. INSIDE is abruptly robbed of momentum as some freaky underwater girl tears the boy’s throat out for the fifteenth time, or you dodder about in a bafflingly slow section in a tiny submarine.
But each of those moments is countered by several that are arresting or exciting. One memorable darkly comic bit has you shuffle along with the zombies, as if auditioning for Shaun of the Dead. And there are many heart-stopping times where you dart for cover when a spotlight arcs your way, or make a leap into the unknown, because the alternative is being torn limb from limb.
Whether you survive is the question. But as you soon discover, death is never the end in INSIDE.