Inside is a 2D puzzle platformer that builds upon what made “Limbo” great, and in fact builds something greater. It comes as a refreshment from all the super graphic’ed games with meaningless gameplays without dialogues in which the story is left to the player’s interpretation, the puzzles, although sometimes a little tedious, are quite entertaining. The atmosphere is downright depressing, with its dark color palette, it is shadow rich world, low ambient sound and faceless characters. There’s also a distinct lack of narrative exposition or interaction, which really creates a desolate feeling while playing. With the limited controls the game provides (general front, back, and jump movements, along with a single interaction button), this is a rare case where it could be argued that initial training is not necessary. The developers made the assumption that this isn’t going to be a player’s first game. Seraphine in his book Ludonarrative Dissonance: Is Storytelling About Reaching Harmony? identifies the reason of ludo-narrative dissonance as an opposition between “Incentives” and “directives” within the “ludic structure [the gameplay]” and the “narrative structure [the story]”.
Inside certainly succeeds evoking a disturbing and unsettling mood. You are dropped into the game in a similar fashion: a young boy in the woods, enveloped by atmosphere with no direction to go but forward, assailed at every turn by twisted perils. It should be noted that INSIDE is not for the faint of heart. INSIDE invites you to fail first and fail often. The deaths experienced by your character are morbid at the best of times. If you fail, there is some very real, very disturbing violence visited upon your character. The author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, defines flow as “the process of achieving happiness through control over our inner life.” It’s a shadow listening to seemingly safe distance. The very first lesson that the game teaches you is that artificial light is dangerous. The light from flashlights and cars reveals your location to your pursuers. Later, this same color of light marks the vision of machines that will grab you with spring-loaded spears if you enter it.
The art is beautiful, the puzzles are creative, and the game strikes a perfect balance between challenge and reward. The first thing you might notice about Inside is the lack of any HUD (heads-up display), which usually provides players with a visual representation of game status. There’s no onboarding, tutorials, or training. While the game’s lack of a HUD might make you wonder why it’s worth covering here, the truth is that Inside’s lack of conventional interface components actually serves to make the player experience even stronger. The post-apocalyptic, capitalist and strongly classical world of INSIDE enjoys an expressive power that even a single line of text would mortify. As Weber highlights in his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism/Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, “In order that a manner of life well adapted to the peculiarities of the capitalism… could come to dominate others, it had to originate somewhere, and not in isolated individuals alone, but as a way of life common to the whole groups of man.”
The best puzzles in the game are deep layers of previous mechanics put together in a brain-tickling cocktail. There’s even a bit where you can drive a submarine, which is a nice change of pace. Inside uses its simple controls and its minimal HUD to let the player focus on what’s most important in the game: the story, the art, and puzzles. It’s a strong example of how much designers can achieve by knowing their target audience and minimizing their reliance on menus — no matter how risky of a prospect that might seem. As the end draws closer and closer, it becomes increasingly apparent that one would never find out the “true” implications of the game.