A boy scrambles down a short but steep rocky incline in the middle of the woods, in the dead of night. He hits the ground, unhurt but a little breathless, and looks around. Although we may not have any idea where he is or where he is going, he seems to always know exactly what he’s doing. He moves forward without hesitation, without panic, and with astonishing strength, even though one false move will cause a sudden, abrupt, and brutal death.
This is how “Inside” begins.
There are questions that arise immediately. Why is the boy sneaking and hiding? Why does a terrible fate befall him if he steps into the light, or gets spotted by the strange figures in masks, or the dogs catch up to him? Where is he going, and why is everything so grim, so dark, so unexplained?
What is this world, and what happened here?
Perhaps, in some scenes, it is more important to ask – what is happening here right now?
Playing the Game:
Disguised as a lush, shadowy 3D world, “Inside” is actually a 2D side-scrolling puzzle adventure. You play as the Boy, a kid in a red shirt and black pants, and you have only two directions to move in: left or right. You travel ‘forward’ in search of…what? It isn’t clear. But something lies at the end of this journey, and the Boy presses on through challenging obstacles, strange rooms, terrifying surprises, and curious puzzles.
A lot of this gameplay is about timing. There are people (and things) in this game that want the Boy dead, and the second you miss a step or a cue – he’ll be dead before you can blink.
I kind of wish we had filmed some of the gameplay reactions when the Fella was playing “Inside” the other night. There was a lot of horrified face-making, jumpscare gasping, and slow-burn squinting at the screen while saying “What….the hell….is that?”
I don’t want to say too much about the actual content of the gameplay, because the surprises and mysteries that unfold are fascinating and deeply unsettling.
If dying repeatedly in gruesome ways because of tiny errors in judgement and timing bothers you, don’t play this game. This is a tactic used by the game designers and engineers to ‘steer’ the player toward the ‘correct’ solution to a problem – and it certainly does the trick. This style of gameplay is something that stresses me out to no end – but the Fella managed to
mostly keep his cool as he worked piece by piece to figure out how the Boy could make it through to the next section.
“How the hell are you supposed to beat this part?” I kept asking as panic rose in my throat. Bear in mind, I wasn’t even the one playing. I was just an observer.
The Fella was dauntless, however, and pressed onward, and I found myself completely unable to look away.
This game, while skin-pricklingly eerie, is beautifully designed and elegantly presented. Although I wouldn’t quite categorize this game’s genre as horror, it definitely has a deep underlying sense of dread and anticipation throughout. Not to mention the Very Abrupt Sudden Deaths the Boy can experience if you step into the wrong light, or lose control of the submarine vehicle, or wait a little too long to move forward. It’s a game designed to keep you on the edge, to keep you racing the invisible clock towards — or away from — something big. Like I said, not my style of gameplay, but I loved watching it happen.
The Fella and I both had intense dreams about this game after he finished playing. I don’t want to go into detail because this game is absolutely worth playing if you get the chance. I also don’t want to put my own thoughts and names on things that have no thoughts and names of their own – this game, having no text and no verbal dialogue, is a delightfully refreshing mystery.
As for the finale? The ending will leave your skin prickling and your mind in a whirl.
This game is awesome. Play it if you can, and if not, watch someone else play it. This is wordless storytelling of a high caliber, and we highly recommend it.