!!Contains spoilers for the game’s ending!!
I enjoyed Inside a lot. Much more than Limbo as I’m not a fan of die-and-retry; I comparatively died very few times in Inside and it rarely felt unfair.
Some moments I thought were amazing; the shock-waves sequence when you have to make your way around an unseen huge force that blasts across a stadium-like structure is simply awe-inducing. Both in its sense of space, its devastating effects and its foreboding mystery; WHAT could be exhaling such a destructive force? There’s also the encounter with the siren which is both eerie and creepy as hell and reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode. The moody forest, the bathyscaphe sequence, etc… There really are many cool moments in the game.
But –and this is where my main gripe lies- those moments appear in retrospect to be largely unconnected, to the point of seeming somewhat random. They’re cool, nice gameplay experiences but somehow I can’t see any clear relation to the rest of the game.
Which is why I have to say I enjoyed the journey much more than the destination: the ending is certainly a big WTF moment, but not the good kind in my book. It’s really well executed (genuinely impressive) but I didn’t find it satisfying by a long shot.
What started out as a dark poetic experience, a tale of a single individual pitted against an oppressive society, a symbol of anti-conformism reminiscent of “Le Roi et L’Oiseau”, ended up on a grotesque note that looked a bit too much like a middle finger to the players who cared about the game’s protagonist.
Which is all the more disappointing because it seems the entire game is a setup for a really subtle but poignant resolution which never really comes. The message about an oppressive society that uses mind control and slavery to artificially divide its citizens is a powerful one but it’s completely discarded by the end.
That being said I know how difficult it is to work on one game for several years; it’s sometimes hard to remain focused on what genuinely matters, story-wise. Because you often tend to concentrate on execution, rather than constantly making sure all the beats are still relevant to the overarching story. It’s not easy.
But once more I believe there are objective issues with Inside’s narration. Things that don’t particularly make sense. Why is the siren killing the boy each time he enters water except when it plugs something into him that suddenly lets him breathe underwater? Why is every adult trying to kill the boy in the first place? Why the worms at the beginning that seem to be the source of “mind control”, but then it turns out mind-control is done through electric contraptions? Why the masks on the people’s face (or lack thereof) at the beginning of the game, while the people at the end don’t wear any? What is causing the huge shock-waves that are so central to the game’s world? What does the fleshy blob have to do with any of this?
I’m not asking for everything to be neatly explained, but I’m expecting some kind of dots to be connectable once you take a step back. A sense that we actually had all the elements but couldn’t really see the big picture until the end. Those dots HAVE to be there.
Or else what you have is akin to contemporary art; a Rorschach test where people project their psyche. A situation where, as an artist, you don’t necessarily have to provide any explicit meaning; your audience (including reviewers) will come up with a discourse for you, a self-justifying theory that validates your every choice and discards anything that doesn’t fit through its prism.
To a certain extent I feel that’s a little what may have happened with Inside. Even though I don’t think this robs the game of its intrinsic virtues which are worthy of the utmost respect.
In closing let me repeat that I found Inside to be extremely slick, gorgeous to look at, very enjoyable to inhabit, but ultimately a little disappointing in its apparent lack of follow-through with its theme(s). And as a result the ending was unsatisfying to me from an emotional point of view.
Yet I’m deeply grateful to Playdead for Inside and I remain forever in absolute admiration of its excellent visuals and elegant design.