I don’t game a lot, but after seeing rave reviews, I knew I had to try Playdead’s INSIDE.
And, like many others, I was blown away.
Above all stands the eerie, mesmerizing, spine-chilling atmosphere. It’s a combination of the visuals, the sounds, the story. All three are tightly integrated as well as dark, minimalist, mysterious, foreboding and awe-inspiring.
The two-and-a-half dimensions are amazing. The game uses 2D controls in a 3D world. The third dimension is an integral part of the game even though the protagonist cannot enter it. First of all, it tells the most of the story. Second, while the boy is stuck in 2D, antagonists can move in 3D which is used in puzzles or to introduce them before they interact with you. When a dog chases you, you can hear it barking as it appears in the distance and races towards you. If it catches you, it does not feel unfair — only terrifying.
The camera is also used to great effect. While the camera always follows the protagonist, it subtly, gradually changes perspective to draw attention to puzzle elements and places you are going. The camera also zooms in and out depending on the scene. I vividly remember the zoomed-in view of trying to fend off a pack of dogs with a torch, or the zoom-out of an underwater expanse making me feel small and vulnerable while also coaxing me into exploring.
The realism of movements is also amazing. The physically unrealistic platformer classic of changing direction in mid-air does not work here. But it’s also in details such as running in mud slowing the boy down. He can stumble and fall. When climbing a ladder, his hands and feet will touch each individual rung. Climbing and swinging a rope looks realistic. While underwater, it takes time to change direction.
In general, I just loved the attention to detail. His breathing chest movements match the sound of his breathing. And his breathing matches the tension of the situation. In this regard, I think that coming up short of breath from a deep dive should also affect his breathing, but it doesn’t. This seems like a minor oversight in what is otherwise a parade of perfection.
The details are not just about the boy’s movements. There are many subtleties that you only find by chance. For example, while swinging from a lamp cord, sparks will fly from the lamp on the off chance that it hits the wall. A blast of air will throw zombies off their feet in the rare case they are standing nearby. Some details are even hidden on purpose. There is a cord you can climb, but when you stand under it, it (and the boy) is obscured by a pillar in the foreground.
Finally, I love the complete lack of words in the game, both spoken and written. The gameplay needs no explanation because the whole thing is just a beautifully crafted progression of elements. The story is very open to interpretation. I think you should play the game and see for yourself!