Playdead Studios released LIMBO on the Xbox Live arcade in 2010 to critical acclaim. The simple side scrolling puzzle game used physics based puzzles and an eerie monochromatic horror theme to garner 9/10 reviews from Gamespot, IGN, and G4 among others. When the studio announced that they were working on their next title, the obvious question was whether it would be a worthy successor. With such lofty expectations, the 2016 follow up titled INSIDE has certainly hit the mark.
You play as a young boy in a dystopian future, running from an oppressive power whose intentions are never truly explored. Which is not to say there are no clues as to what is going on in the world you inhabit, the themes are strong and well presented, though there is no hint of a coherent story. The game stumbles a little here, making it hard to identify with the player character. The game devolves into a simple journey without a beginning or an end in sight. But for its two-hour play time, the journey never seems like a chore.
The visuals and atmosphere are the true selling points here. Beautifully designed set pieces transition seamlessly from one to another – from dark forests to dystopian factories it always seems fresh. Keeping the horror traditions of LIMBO, some of the visuals can be quite unsettling. The further you push into the factories and laboratories controlled by the mysterious antagonists, the more apparent it is that human life is not at the top of their agenda. INSIDE also uses more colour than LIMBO, with pale colours used to highlight important items and pathways against the monochromatic backgrounds.
The simplicity of the control scheme means that only 5 keys are used for the entirety of the game; the entire game can be played with one hand, with movement controlled with the arrow keys and the right-ctrl as the action key. The lack of complicated controls leaves the player to experience the game for the cinematic experience it is designed to be. With no HUD or text to get in the way, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching an interactive cutscene.
Comparing Playdead’s two titles against each other, it’s clear that this developer has something special. INSIDE is a rare case of a title surpassing its predecessor, despite the previous title leaving little room for improvement. One might even say the developers have played it safe, following the same formula and releasing what is essentially LIMBO 2.0. Is that a bad thing though? With short run-times for both games, it simply feels like more of a good thing.
The true test of Playdead as a studio will surely be in its next release. Hopefully the studio will be a little more ambitious and step out of their comfort zone. But until then, the quality of their work is superb.
INSIDE is $19.99 USD on Steam. For more information or to buy it, head to the Steam page.