I’m all for an artistic experience in video games. Some of my favourite games have very little gameplay but are packed with story and charm. The reason it has taken me so long to play INSIDE since the 6 years ago when it first launched on Xbox 1 is that I didn’t really click with Limbo and every other Misery Mario game that’s come since. A child running, jumping, moving a block and dealing with a few physics puzzles to a usually miserable conclusion is not my cup of tea. I rarely feel the need to be depressed by video games so the entire genre feels lost to me. INSIDE was highly recommended and with it now on Game Pass, I finally played through it in one sitting. I’m all for new experiences in genre’s out of my wheelhouse and I now see why everyone rates it so highly but it’s really not that great.
Visually INSIDE is simple but stunning. It really nails the bleak beauty that bigger 3D titles aim for and the aesthetic of slight sci-fi and dystopia is spot on for the story it’s telling. There’s no dialogue for subtitles more the sound effects of grunting, dogs barking and the very rare uses of music. It could definitely use a few button prompts at times but you’ll figure out everything quickly enough. INSIDE does rely a lot on visual cues to solve puzzles and thankfully the checkpoints are close enough that you won’t be frustrated when you die over and over again. The biggest problem I have with INSIDE is why is it a video game in the first place? Almost every story focused game brings a unique element to the gameplay to give it a sense of standing out but INSIDE sprinkles what little uniqueness it has so sparingly it’s hard to point to any one moment that stood out.
Almost every fantastic moment in INSIDE is a set piece with minimal controls or the illusion of control and I’m not saying, “there isn’t enough gameplay for this to be a game” but right up until the credits I was left wondering why this wasn’t just an animation? The running back and forth to use Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee style puzzles to continue didn’t give a sense of triumph more a feeling someone had pressed pause on an interesting story. There is a lot of timed jumping and navigating within a strict timer and although the checkpoints are generous you will die more than a From Software game just trying to figure out the puzzles. Exploring the areas to try and find the secret locations will mostly just get you killed and makes the exploring feel pointless.
INSIDE is a short game but still somehow feels like it could have been shorter. There are tense moments, clever ideas and a story worth seeing but games like The Beginners Guide and The Stanley Parable feel like they use the medium of video games to tell a story rather than the story being the reason for the game to exist. Even Limbo felt like it had more to offer and although there have been more games like INSIDE since it really feels like a recorded playthrough would have been the same experience. I can appreciate why everyone loves INSIDE and there’s a “wow” moment for everyone but I just feel like a lot of the hype for it comes at the time of its release. Going back to INSIDE now there are far too many other Misery Mario games, slowly going through large 3D vistas and all failing to nail something unique right from the start. The Artful Escape was so close to this but there seems to be a fear of alienating the audience for these games if there’s too much gameplay.
There is a stage select option unlocked once the credits roll but I’m not in a hurry to go back to INSIDE. It’s all very atmospheric and moody but going back to it now feels like seeing a blueprint for the worst ideas in 2.5D narrative games for the last 6 years. Every story game must now have slow walks through nothing, boxes to drag, a monster that chases you, multiple small windows of escape and a lot more unanswered questions. The conclusion was good and despite there being a lot of frustration the story does still hold up. INSIDE has a great story that should have just been an award winning animated film.
6/10 – INSIDE the original Misery Mario game