Similar to its critically acclaimed Limbo, developer Playdead’s Inside is a black-and-white, sidescrolling puzzle-platformer starring a young boy. Unlike Limbo‘s hero, however, Inside‘s child protagonist can have his throat crushed between the jaws of a rabid dog.
More interesting – and less disturbing – than the fact that the lad’s neck snaps like peanut brittle when he’s captured by a vicious pup, is that he sports no facial features. Despite having no eyes, nose, or mouth, though, he’s among the most expressive, emotionally engaging characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of controlling. From the way he reactively turns his head and tumbles down hills, to how he tiptoes through shallow water and breaths heavily when hiding from threats, every single one of his subtle movements and more action-heavy animations brim with life.
This same affecting attention to detail is reflected in the game’s stunning visual presentation. Coupled with gorgeous art direction, the sparing – but extremely effective – use of lighting, shadows, and physics yields some of the most atmospheric environments ever witnessed in a virtual world. You’ll be stricken with fear when one of those four-legged foes comes chasing after you, but you’ll be simultaneously impressed by the animal’s animation, as it dives into the water and leaves realistic ripples in its wake.
Inside‘s lack of any tutorial or user interface elements only furthers its ability to immerse you in its incredibly rich, moving world. That’s not to say, however, that the absence of traditional tips, meters, or on-screen text will leave you hanging. On the contrary: The game’s ability to communicate to the player via subtle visual cues and smart level design provides all the info you need, without ever pulling you from the experience.
This sort of seamless, immersion-focused philosophy translates to Inside‘s puzzles as well. Without spoiling too much, I’ll say that of the few head-scratchers I encountered during my demo, none felt like “puzzles” so much as organic extensions of the story and gameplay. No challenge ever seemed arbitrary or tacked-on, but simply part of the story’s natural progression. When I cushioned the protagonist’s fall by landing on pile of pig corpses, for example, I didn’t feel like I was solving a puzzle, but rather saving the boy’s life.
Of course, that example also brings us back to Inside‘s dark, mature, and crazy-creepy nature. In addition to the deadly dogs, players will encounter masked men, nightmare-conjuring contraptions, and zombie-like beings controlled via a brain-swapping device that wouldn’t look out of place in a mad scientist’s laboratory.
As mysterious as it is menacing, and clever as it is creepy, Inside appears to answer the question: “Can we get another game like Limbo, only way more sinister and scary?” We’ll know for sure when Playdead’s latest rises from the grave on Xbox One, come June 29!