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Inside is a beautiful, well framed, puzzler narrative game, telling the story of a boy escaping a totalitarian world of mind controlling devices and human drones. Despite that, I have an apprehension about giving Inside the hasty recommendation I would normally grant a novel, artsy game.
There is a manga artist I once stumbled across called Kago Shintaro, who emblemises the problem I have with Inside. I don't recommend you look him up without a google safe search. Shintaro is a tremendously imaginative artist, capable of true feats of lateral thinking and creativity, and yet its all in service of producing utterly obscene things. To speak plainly, he creates scatological gore porn of children being dismembered in elaborate ways. Anyone who has already played Inside might realise where I am going with this.
Inside is a game where you guide a boy through a series of deathtraps. Owing to the puzzle design, you won't anticipate a lot of these deathtraps until you have already run headlong into them, and then you are treated to a meticulously animated game over, where the child might be torn apart by dogs, blown apart by sonic blasts, or (the one that gets to me the most) having their windpipe crushed against a metal railing by a faceless adult. There is a horrific imagination at play here, trying to figure out the most unpleasant ways they can make you watch a cartoon boy die: a turret that shoots out crude harpoons hooked up high voltage, or a massive ventilation fan that bisects anyone passing through.
I will sit through incredibly graphic content, but I feel like the story has to justify it for me to give it a pass, and I doubt Inside does that. There's a quiet threshold where entertainment can go from being candid to being indulgent. 10 years ago I complained that the movie Watchmen doing this, to the discredit of the story. Comedic movies like The Machine Girl revel in it, and I guess that's fine for the effect its going for, but if I'm expected to take a story seriously I need it to justify showing me four hours of child butchery.
Inside has clever puzzles, an engrossing scenario, and a beautiful minimal art style. Also, there is a glorious part of the game, four fifths of the way through, where your protagonist is finally granted the power to turn the tables on the tyrants, having gone through the rest of the game facing a chain of insta-death scenarios. It feels great. But as with Shintaro, this one issue of basic decency is sticking out in my mind. Even though the content isn't particularly graphic, I struggle to give Inside recommendation. That said, if you are reading this, smirking at my prudishness, then by all means give it a go.
Having played Limbo before, I expected Inside to be an interesting game, and it certainly didn't fail at accomplishing that.
Gameplay-wise, the game is essentially the same deal as Limbo - you keep walking forward, solving puzzles and trying to avoid deadly obstacles. The game provides a nice variety of challenges to overcome, and most of the time, the puzzles are simple enough to solve fairly quickly, but not so simple as to feel boring. I do have to note though that there were several times where I had to resort to using a walkthrough, because the game didn't convey to me that I am capable of doing certain things.
As for the other elements... I can't really say too much without spoiling anything, but basically, the game has you sneak deeper and deeper into a really strange facility, apparently trying to carry out a mission that you can only guess at for 90% of the playthrough, and which will have you scratching your head even after the game is over. The visuals really help at creating this mysterious, bleak atmosphere and having you constantly wonder what the hell is going on, curious as to what is the explanation to all this. One thing I have to admire here is that this game has a much more apparent narrative going on, unlike Limbo, which felt like you were walking through a selection of loosely tied together places, and which ended abruptly with no buildup.
Now, if there's something I could complain about, it would be the "neverending level" kind of format that both this game and Limbo went for - personally, I feel that this is not a good idea, because when there are no clear breaks between sections of the game, then the game eventually starts feeling like it drags on forever, even despite its length of 2-4 hours. Having the game be divided into at least 3 sections with a clear "Chapter Nth: Insert Name Here" would provide a much better estimate of how far you are into the game and where you can take a break.
Now, is the game worth 20 euros? That honestly depends on how highly you rate "artsy" games of relatively short length. Personally I'd say: wait for a sale. But the game itself is definitely worth checking out.
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