A masterclass of macabre design...

Panting as I clamber through the treeís with grass and twigs alike crunching underfoot. A searing light beams through the brush ahead, searching for me I know, like a lighthouse attempting to guide me home.

I panic in a dash to freedom, a desperate attempt, one thatís swiftly cut short as an expressionless man in a suit exits his vehicle and quickly gives chase, a chase he wins. Undeterred, I re-play the scenario, this time I wonít make the same mistake I tell myself, this time Iíll make it through Inside unscathed.

Since debuting in 2008, Danish independent games studio Playdead have only released two titles, but itís clear to see that if Limbo was a prototype - a proof of concept - then Inside is the full manifestation of that creation into a true experience every gamer should partake in.

Whilst taking obvious gameplay cues from its spiritual predecessor; the execution and macabre, twisted tale Inside weaves are truly like night and day.

From the offset, presenting you no interface to speak of - other than when pressing the Options button of the DualShock 4 controller within the game - Inside grips you from the go, offering no guidance, text or cues throughout, as you slither into its murky depths, welcoming you with a masterclass in game design that is clearly from the personal handbook of Shigeru Miyamoto himself.

Employing a minimalist design approach, Inside comprises of merely three actions; guiding the seemingly young protagonist you are controlling - across his harrowing 2D world - via the left analog stick, jumping with Cross and interacting with an object within the environment with Circle. Thatís it. But never has pushing right on an analog stick been so captivating within a game before, as Inside presents you with scenario after scenario, bolstering not only your knowledge of its - seamless and load free - world and therein the tools to interact with it, but also giving you just a glimmer of insight into just what in the heck is going on.

As you clamber through the increasingly bizarre world of Inside, youíll be slowly oriented into its core mechanic, itís many environmental based puzzles. Starting off simple; such as learning to jump, or dragging a box, to the outright strange, with mind control - of seemingly hollow shells of humanity - and universe defying water physics on full display.

Thankfully any mistake you may make - which can result in capture or a gruesome fate - is quickly erased, and youíll be instantly resurrected at a checkpoint to try once again. The extremely smart way in which Playdead use these mechanics is a feat unto itself, like stepping stones guiding your mind, youíll never feel lost, and in short order gain complete understanding of everything the game requires from you.

Likewise this same minimalist approach has crossed over into the visual aspect, whilst the animation is spectacular - especially for such a small indie team - the muted tones of the world sit perfectly with the overall feel Inside is aiming to convey. This even bleeds into the music - or absence of, I should say - with Inside expertly crafting various ambient tones and sounds to keep you on constant edge.

All of these elements gel together to create a unique cinematic tone throughout, a feat that most triple A titles fail to accomplish. In fact whilst only a small niggle, with Inside being so polished, small things; such as the absence of footprints in the sand or clothes not being wet after leaving the water readily stand out in what is otherwise a near perfect gaming experience.

Part of the appeal with Inside is the outlandish world in which it is set. The parables of 80ís entertainment such as Stephen King and Spielberg are readily apparent, Government Agents, alien parasites, mind control - and even a quickening tempo beat included akin to Jaws, in a certain water portion that brought a smile to my face - with even more recent offerings such as Fringe, X-Files and the iconic Fumito Ueda game Ico also all borrowed from in some form or another.

But Inside aims to be far more obscure than the aforementioned in its narrative. In fact, as you eventually reach Insideís completely left field conclusion after 4 to 5 hours, youíll still likely to be just as stumped to what has transpired than when you took your first steps within this journey, and for many that will be fine - and rightly fitting - some though, may feel a little let down within its obtuseness.

Meanwhile, gamers wishing to glean even more from the title can even find 14 hidden collectables spread throughout their experience, that once attained allow the access of an alternate - albeit much swifter - ending.

Inside encapsulates everything right within the independent game genre, exuding a masterclass in game design with stellar animation and a muted colour palette that fit its macabre interior perfectly. Though some may be put off by its obtuseness, Inside is a unique title all gamers should eventually at least attempt to experience.

Review copy provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    7th September 2016

  • 5 Out of 5 Stars
  • Likely to be too obtuse for some

    Absence of small things like footprints and wet clothes effects

  • Textbook game design

    Minimalist visuals

    Fantastic sound design
    & animation

    Smart puzzles

Game Info

Playdead presents Inside - PlayStation 4, Xbox One & Steam Inside
Rating: 18
Release Date: 23rd August
Platform/s: PlayStation 4, Xbox One (released June 29th) & Steam (released July 7th)
Developer: Playdead
Publisher/s: Playdead

  • Limbo
  • Braid
  • Ico

No, whilst the gameplay is simple enough the gruesome deaths and overall tone aren't child friendly.