Sometimes, simple’s really all it takes. Side-scroll, jump and interact.
The purveyors of Limbo, one of gaming’s most minimalist masterpieces, have returned to form with Inside, a creepy and compelling side-scrolling puzzle-platformer that tracks a young boy who climbs through a fence and wends his way deeper and deeper into a disturbing mystery that involves a shadowy science project and mass-population mind control.
Inside, like Limbo, is a completely dialogue- and text-free experience. As you lope through one unsettling landscape after another — from spectral corn fields to claustrophobic warehouses filled with malevolent tech and rooftops linked by boards that always seem on the verge of splintering — each sound is like a startling gunshot, a jump-scare without the ghoul. Even during the stretches where the threats aren’t imminent, the air’s thick with tension and anticipation.
The puzzles seem simple since there’s not that much to interact with on the screen, but they’re deceptively insidious. Some of the best ones involve creepy headpiece interfaces that allow you to animate and command groups of human husks who can move objects or solve puzzles you can’t reach. Yep, it’s exactly as creepy as it sounds.
The specter of death is as sudden, shocking and silent as it was in Limbo. Failing to react quickly enough to environmental cues or getting discovered at the wrong moment can lead to some pretty gruesome results, and while there aren’t bear traps and spiders this time around, it’s still disquieting to see your youthful avatar getting, say, his throat ripped out by an attack dog or dragged away by the coils of a soulless robot. (At least this time, the kid can swim; in Limbo, our protagonist drowned at the mere sight of water.)
Inside benefits from the same effect that helped entertainment franchise entrants like Jurassic World and The Force Awakens reconnect. Limbo debuted as an Xbox Live game six years ago, and even though it’s spent the intervening time infiltrating the other gaming platforms, our nostalgia for its unique blend of deep atmosphere and simple gameplay couldn’t be keener.
At about three hours — maybe more if you replay to score the alternate ending — Inside seems like a prime target for the crowd who’s always raging about content, price point and value. I’d argue this is a perfect confluence of all three. It’s also one of the best gaming experiences of the year, and we’re scarcely halfway home.
Inside, from Playdead Games, is available for Xbox One and PC and costs $19.99.