Inside Review – Walk the Line
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Release Date: August 23, 2016
Acquired via: Purchase by Reviewer
Inside is last year’s sequel/spiritual successor to 2010’s creepy indie darling title, Limbo, made by Danish indie developer Playdead. It’s the natural evolution of both their aesthetic style and gameplay mechanics, while never becoming stale, derivative or predictable. It expands on many elements that made Limbo such a success and, in short, it’s brilliant.
Its narrative is just as ambiguous and minimalist as its predecessor, but leaves enough open to interpretation that it could be as intimate or as overarching as the player wishes. Using vocabulary such as ‘Orwellian’, ‘clandestine’ and ‘conspiracy’ would normally be reserved for conspiracy thrillers or, at a push, a Hideo Kojima game. In fact, the most recent trailer for Kojima’s new passion project, Death Stranding, may well share some themes. But the beauty of Inside is that nothing is explicit.
The ‘trial and death’ gameplay returns from the first game, but this time rewarding exploration (to a certain extent), astute observation and patience. Exciting, tense and cautious in equal measure, progression can sometimes be a frustrating affair. The sense of accomplishment from a seemingly impossible situation, either environmental or puzzle based, is more tangible and cathartic than any war of attrition normally attributed to an end-of-level boss. Inside is at its best in its most surreal and obscure moments. A few quick reactions aside, each hazard or enemy shocks and disturbs but never outstays its welcome. Something innocent or dormant one second will turn and attack you the next, requiring lateral thinking, patience and a strong nerve.
Where Inside differentiates itself from Limbo is in its graphical fidelity. Limbo was a gorgeous monochrome 2D side-scroller, whereas this time ‘round, there are a lot more subtle yet significant developments in the glorious, bleak world. The camera pans around, zooms, and utilizes the foreground and background during set pieces and solving puzzles. Acute angles and bloom lighting combined with a muted colour palette build a film noir atmosphere, exemplified in the more industrial environments. The animations and character models especially vary greatly, from glistening animals and weather effects to swimming silhouetted sirens. Submerged hair drifts or authorities linger and pounce. One particular scene involving water and artificial light sources really showcase the unnerving beauty of Inside. Indoors or out, it’s always stunningly realised.
Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it. “ Inside‘s true mastery is in its sound design. Sparse sound effects such as howling wind or footsteps creep up while gigantic sonic booms decimate all in sight, or the rabid growls of guard dogs giving chase generate palpable tension and urgency. Manipulation of silence and ambient static or subtle mechanisms give the world life and desolation. Whether it’s splashing, squelching, crushing or climbing wire fences, Inside will always fixate your senses.
Whatever you think of the boy, the environment, tasks, or even the ending could in part depend on your own interpretation of ideas such as control, conformity. As lonely and isolated as Inside can be, it differs from Limbo in that it steadily and ominously implies a that there is a greater entity in play. Various levels of interaction with non-playable characters, whether hostile or inanimate, genuinely build tension through the mixture of mimicry, evasion or recruitment. Inside will leave you with more questions than answers, which may frustrate, but theorizing and immersing yourself in the mystery is its compelling and creepy charm.
Inside is unmissable for fans of puzzle platforming, or those who yearn for a bit more of the abstract and obscure, with a taste for something off the beaten track.