What the hell did I just play?
This is literally what I said the moment I concluded this abstract indie experience. The video game medium is having trouble being recognized as art, despite the fact that it’s ultimately an irrefutable fact , as they combine music, visuals, and emotional experiences. Further proving this, is Play Dead’s newest title: Inside, which is just about one of the most abstract pieces of art we’ve seen hit the masses. Similar in tone to Limbo, Inside also sticks with the subtle black and white tones while using color sparingly. This makes it hard to enjoy the details of the environment, but also helps set the overall tone for the game, and provides excellent atmosphere. The basic gameplay is simple to master, but the puzzles give you a challenge, and can be very unforgiving. The story is next to non-existent and up to interpretation, Yet it’s still an experience I feel gamers should partake in.
Weird, ominous, noir, and subtle are just a few words that instantly come to mind when I think of Inside. Inside gets you to ask questions. As the game progressed, the more the mystery built up, and I love a game with questions and intrigue. I also like it when questions are answered and conflicts are resolved, but unfortunately, Inside doesn’t answer a single question or resolve to satisfaction. There are multiple speculations on the symbolism contained within, but again, this can just be one’s interpretation. The choice of art style made me feel like I was watching a Frank Miller film, with very dark and infrequent lighting. I feel that this is almost a drawback. I want to be able to experience the environment, but due to the color scheme, lots of detail is lost. This may be in part to the style choice of the developers, but I prefer to see and enjoy environments instead. The sound I felt though, was spot on. The lack of a constant score added to the mystery and gave it much more of a thriller or horror feel.
Even for an independent game, Inside is extremely simple when it come to controls. All that you need to concern yourself with is moving left or right, grabbing and jumping. With these simple controls, navigating the platforms is very easy. For the first 20 minutes, all I did was hold down the left stick. I know now that Inside was slowly easing me up to the challenges ahead, while allowing me to adjust to the abstract tone. The puzzles can definitely be challenging. Normally with a game like say, Zelda, one would get stumped, but once the solution had been found, it was then just a matter of going through the motions. Inside is very unforgiving when it comes to timing. I often found the solution after a couple attempts but was still halted because the timing of a jump or switch pull was slightly off. This only happened a few times, but it was still frustrating none the less. There are a few fresh gameplay aspects that I did enjoy. Instead of just traversing the platforms as a random boy, there are segments where you have a mind control lamp that you put on your head to control “mindless ones” to help solve puzzles. Then you have a submarine that can smash through certain walls, but also requires you to shine your spotlight on demon mermaids resembling the girl from The Grudge. These new play styles were enjoyable, adding a decent pace when you are feeling a little tired of the platformer gameplay. Then there were spots where I was literally terrified. There are multiple dogs that will literally tear you to shreds if you take a misstep, which are still essentially bunny rabbits compared to the demon grudge mermaids. There are segments where you are vulnerable while swimming slowly through the water trying to escape said mermaids. More often than not they will get you and drown you. Overall the game was paced rather well. There was never a point where I said to myself “Ugh not this puzzle again”. Keep in mind, the game is a few hours long without digging for the collectible power sources.
As you progress through the game you go from farmland to industrial, to a dystopia all the way to a laboratory. All livestock seemed to be dead, and most people seem mindless, but why? I’m playing as a random boy who started in a forest running away from mobsters with savage dogs, but why? How come mindless ones are being corralled? Why are there shock waves that disintegrate organic matter in an instant? Why is there anti-gravity water? These are all questions I found very enticing, but none of these questions were answered. It’s like if you were to watch a magician make a coin disappear, but never make it reappear. Okay, you have my attention, now I need resolution. After the second playthrough, I felt less resolution than the first. The game just ends. It is very anti-climatic. Others, from experience, feel the same and blame it on hype. I don’t think this applies to me, as I went into this game relatively blind. The buildup to the end was exciting, fresh, and just plain odd – in a good way, but it just ended and cut to credits. It is probably the biggest aspect of the game I would change.
Art is always foremost up for interpretation. Abstract art even more so. I do think Play Dead had their own ideas of a message to send, but again it’s not very apparent. Maybe they had no agenda. Maybe they brushed paint on a few spots on a canvas and decided to let us choose the message. Either way, it was a very strange experience, but one that makes me think the more I write about it. Inside does a great job at setting its tone. Though it’s not going to max out any computer specs, it is unique in its art style, with simple and well-paced gameplay. If only there were some definitive answers to all the mystery revolving around Inside.