Calling Norwegian developer Playdead’s INSIDE a “side-scrolling platform game” would be like describing David Lynch’s movie classic “Blue Velvet” as a “murder mystery”. It really does not adequately describe the experience of the story as a whole. Or, in this case, the game as a whole.
INSIDE may well be – at it’s heart – a simple “side-scrolling platform game” but underneath the mechanics lies an unbelievable story, and one that drips out to you on an ever more shocking tangent. As you run from left to right, as a player, you are often left astounded at the unfolding events. “Did I just see that correctly?!” If it’s not invasive worms being pulled out of pig’s arseholes, it just the sheer scale of the setting that grows and impresses. You really do become completely absorbed in wanting to know what the fuck is going on in this story, and that is down to great design.
The most impressive thing about INSIDE – and I haven’t even mentioned the killing yet – are the atmospherics. Music, sound effects, graphics, level design, special effects, camera movement – the ‘mis en scene’ in this game is just the best I’ve ever seen. The subtle use of light and dark, and the murky underwater sections are just mind-blowingly good, in terms of game design. Combined, the atmospherics create an unbelievable tension as you survive your way from checkpoint to checkpoint.
Survive… Ah, yes. The killing… Like Limbo (INSIDE’s predecessor) the poor player character can take an absolute mashing at times, and his death can often be hilarious. I did wonder, however, if the dog attacks in the game would freak some people out. They are shockingly realistic in their gory detail. Actually, unlike Limbo, INSIDE is not a ‘cartoon’ game. It is deadly serious. Dark. Upsetting. And genuinely scary. When you die: it’s usually quite bloody, and the first time you’re shot by guards it will probably make you sit up and take notice (“The bastards! They even kill kids!”). In all honesty though: guard dogs are the least of your problems in INSIDE. It is packed full of wonderfully imaginative lethal surprises the whole way through, whether that is remembering to jump over a stick so that the guards don’t get you, to carefully timing your way through a ginormous, bone-shattering gravity field that will kill you if you put a foot wrong. Some of the ideas in INSIDE – the science fiction ideas – are on a par with Portal 2, or Philip K. Dick, or Kubrick’s ending on the movie A.I. – they are BIG ideas, and are wonderful to experience in a video game.
INSIDE is like a great book. It’s simple, absorbing and opens your mind to unbelievable weirdness at key points in the game, making the journey to the end more than memorable. And – like any good book – it is always there to play again.