Eerie. Unsettling. Dark. Morbid. Atmospheric. Creepy.
An anonymous boy in a red shirt emerges from the woods. A truck pulls away in the background. The boy follows in the shadows, for reasons unknown to all but himself. As he rounds a bend, the men in the truck spot him, shooting him down without question, without remorse.
INSIDE does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere of unease without any dialogue or on screen prompts of any kind. You’re never explicitly told what is going on, why you’re trying to stay hidden, where you’re going, or why you’re trying to get there. However, the developers have not just left you high and dry with no help whatsoever. Little things like the animation of your character or the placement of a ledge teach you the rules of this universe. You the player are implicitly told to not be seen because as the boy approaches the edge of cover, he crouches and looks apprehensively toward the man and the dog. They can’t actually spot you this time (they’re too far away), but this teaches you to avoid them in the future.
There is a fair amount of trial and error, as you learn which aspects of this world are deadly and which are merely meant to evoke a sense of wrongness. On the plus side, the checkpoint system is very generous and I never had to retrace more than a minute or two of terrain after dying. As a puzzle platformer, the control scheme isn’t unnecessarily complex. The joystick is for movement, one button jumps, the other grabs. There are variations on this theme throughout the 2~3 hour runtime of the game, but I found that what the buttons do is generally intuitive. I’m being a bit vague on purpose to avoid spoiling aspects of the second half of the game, as I believe it’s best to just experience it.
By way of comparison, INSIDE shares a lot of influences and design decisions with LIMBO, the previous entry from the same developers. Both are puzzle platformers and both deal with dark themes and subject matter. INSIDE feels like the natural evolution of LIMBO, so if you enjoyed that one, definitely give this one a go.