Whose inside me?
Video games have forever been a perfect medium for breathtaking stories. Stepping into the shoes of a hero, an outcast, an artist, or a villain is only a double click away. Those familiar with the craftsmen over at Playdead studios know they like to do things a little different. INSIDE, much like it’s spiritual predecessor Limbo, tasks the player with controlling a youthful boy through a series of deadly puzzles across a brainwashed land of sorrow. Not super strength, not weapons, and definitely not a body transforming secret word, just a firm grip and the head on your shoulders can keep you alive INSIDE.
I spent my first moments between the trees of a moist and gloomy forest exploring my character’s controls: arrow keys to move around with the up arrow doubling as a jump and CTRL to grab hold of objects. I was skeptical of the puzzle complexity with such simple controls because of boring games in the past like Journey, but my worries were unfounded. INSIDE plays host to an often bizarre and frightening batch of puzzles whose solutions are cleverly hidden behind heart pounding moments or gorgeous views that keep you gasping from start to finish.
Trekking puzzle to puzzle, continually pushing through flickers of light and dark makes progression through INSIDE feel much like turning the reel of a movie projector; each step closer to the right brings twists and turns worthy of it’s own horror movie. Death is eventual and evidently your only true teacher as you grab, jump, push, swim, and run your way deeper from forest to farm, farm to city, and city to well…..let’s not give away too much. A deadly curriculum like INSIDE’s is one of the reasons I loved my playthrough so much it only took me two sittings to finish, and that’s only because I had to go to work.
One wall may be conquered by a well positioned box, but maneuvering that box may require perfect timing. Timing is the key to most solutions; pushing the safe off to break a hole in the floor (above) may have been obvious, but running back in time to avoid smashing into a human hot-dog on the floor below was not as clear. I don’t believe many players will get stuck and become completely bewildered on what to do; no one is going to smash their keyboard or punch their monitor, but there were difficult stretches. A few harder instances arise when our blank faced leading boy discovers and adorns selected mind-control helmets. These helmets, which remind me of glowing versions of Toad’s cap from Super Mario Brothers, gives the player control of 1 or more different NPCs scattered across the area. Themes of mind control are not new to video games, but rarely is it interwoven so masterfully throughout atmosphere and infrastructure to leave players abnormally complacent with bending people’s wills.
It is difficult for me to describe the storm of emotion INSIDE turned within me. Many games entertain me, very few games touch me. INSIDE touched me well… for lack of a better word, inside. INSIDE’s story isn’t set in stone, and encourages players to draw their own conclusions and paint the world within the screen how you see mentally fit to do so. But for me it resonated with my fear of living in a world without color, devoid of life and nature, where each one of us is a mindless slave or another cog in the grand machine. We are presented with a dangerous world where men hunt children with murderous dogs, the desolate march for judgement by eyes hidden behind masks, farms are plagued with parasites and death, and the thoughtless stand forgotten and left to starve.
My audio experience was weaved with tendrils of ambient music, laces of incredibly accurate sound effects, eerie heartbeats of bass, and cavernous echos that add to the loneliness. Hidden amidst bleak skies and dull landscapes are stirrings of vigor; moments that charge you forward. While rustling my way through a muddy cornfield, my ears were tickled by the chimes of a clutch of golden yellow baby chicks. The gloomy weather and my life recently being at risk may have wiped away my hope of survival, but once those little guys started following me it was renewed stronger than before. It was as if the game was telling me, “Even in a world as dark as this, life still prevails”. At the very least the blood red shirt on our hero’s back shouts constant rebellion: I will not be controlled!
INSIDE is an odyssey I recommend everyone, gamer or not, to undertake. When it’s all said and done, the game did feel a bit short, but every second is worth it. I haven’t felt so strongly towards an indie game story since Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and that’s saying a lot. After experiencing a monotonous world of where specs of dust in pale moonlight beauty in comparison to flakes of flesh wafting in the sunlight, the credits made me sit in the sun, reflect on myself and the progress of our world. It’s hard to discover any true answers in our world, much like the mysteries still left unsolved in INSIDE’s world of scientific genocide, but it’s easy to understand the massive effort it took Playdead to splice together this masterpiece.
Thank you for reading. Nolan — Totaltoad
INSIDE gets a 10/10 (Masterpiece)
Thank you to Zack Hage and Playdead for supplying me with the code and giving me this chance to share my opinion with everyone. For more reviews and features like this one, please check out The Cube on Medium.com, or our twitter account @TheCubeMedium . Check out my random video game videos on YouTube.