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Playdead outdoes itself

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    INSIDE

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Playdead outdoes itself

    Playdead Studios has released one other game besides Inside. That title was 2010’s Limbo, which was an atmospheric puzzle/platformer with horror elements that earned strong reviews at the time of its release. The followup to Limbo is Inside, and it stands as a major improvement over what came before, serving as one of the better games 2016 has seen so far.

    Gameplay

    Inside is like a direct evolution of Limbo, taking many of its concepts and improving upon them greatly. The puzzles in Inside are a lot smarter, and the game ditches some of the ridiculous set pieces and hazards with more realistic, brutal dangers that make it easier to get invested in the game world.

    Players interact with the environment in a number of ways, and thinking outside of the box to manipulate objects and enemies is a key gameplay element in Inside. I’m amazed that Playdead was able to take tired video game puzzle tropes like pushing and pulling boxes and twist them into something that feels completely new.

    There are a few different enemy types in the game, but players rarely engage with them directly. Instead, the trick is learning how these enemies behave, and then figuring out a way to use their behavior to your advantage. For example, there are attack dogs that go after the main character (a young black-haired boy), and players have to trick them into running to the wrong areas in order to bypass them safely.

    Surviving enemy encounters and solving puzzles makes up the bulk of Inside’s gameplay, but the game is constantly throwing new mechanics at the player. Some of these mechanics are refined and Playdead uses them multiple times for numerous, smart puzzle. Some of these gameplay features permeate throughout the entire experience, with the big one probably being the mind control device.

    One of the key unique gameplay features in Inside is the players’ ability to control the minds of the brainwashed citizens that can be found throughout the levels. This feature is clever, and like many of Inside’s other puzzles, often challenges players to think outside the box to be successful.

    Inside’s gameplay is truly magnificent, and polished to the point that there are virtually no imperfections. It encourages experimentation, and is never frustrating. As a puzzle/platformer game, Inside may stand at the top of the heap.

    Story

    Inside’s story may be more divisive than its gameplay. The game draws inspiration from dystopian novels like 1984, depicting what appears to be a government organization brainwashing citizens to be slaves. Alternatively, some secret government agency is kidnapping people from a small town to do experiments on them.

    It’s honestly hard to say, because Inside doesn’t spell anything out when it comes to the story. Instead it leaves people guessing, and is as vague as possible with what is actually going on. There are hints for players to piece together, but there’s a lot about the plot that is left up to interpretation. For those that prefer a challenging story, Inside provides one of the most thought-provoking tales I’ve seen all year long.

    Graphics/Audio

    Limbo had a very distinct visual style, where the world was mostly black and white. Inside adds more color, but the general tone is still very bleak – to match the horror-style plot, I presume. The art style is a very unique look, that kind of resembles a moving painting, in a way. There’s a lot of detail in the environment, some really well-done animations, and absolutely zero graphical oddities, slowdowns, or any other issues that I encountered throughout my entire experience with the game. Just like its gameplay is polished to near-perfection, so too is Inside’s graphics.

    The same can be said for the audio. Inside does an amazing job with using sounds to create the atmosphere and even instill fear in players. The sound effects are also somewhat used in gameplay situations, as players can pick up audio cues for certain areas of the game that require precise timing on their part.

    There is almost no voice acting to speak of, and the soundtrack takes a minimalist approach as well. This minimalist style contributes a lot to the atmosphere in Inside, and is more memorable than it would have been had the game had an overbearing orchestral score all the time.

    Play Time/Replayability

    Now, this is where Inside falters quite a bit. The game can be beat in just a couple of hours, or much quicker if players are able to solve the puzzles fast. It’s an experience that can be blown through in a single sitting, which some people might not think is worth the $20 entry fee.

    However, Inside arguably has more replayability than its predecessor at least, with an intriguing alternate ending that is sure to please those that already enjoy its challenging plot. There’s also some collectibles to seek out, but be warned that finding all of them and finding the alternate ending is going to pretty much require that players look up a guide or walkthrough online.

    On the bright side, players don’t have to go through the entire story from scratch if they decide to go after all the collectibles. Inside has as neat checkpoint system that lets players bounce around to specific parts of the game. This is useful not only for snagging collectibles, but also for reliving some of the game’s more shocking, fun, and memorable moments. It’s a feature that honestly a lot more games should implement in the future.

    Final Recommendation

    Inside is a brilliant game that suffers from a bit of a content deficiency. Even so, what’s there is so polished that many gamers probably won’t care that the game can be 100% completed in less than five hours. Playdead has taken what made Limbo great and has improved it even further, which makes the idea of its next game that much more exciting.

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