by Jed Pressgrove
Platforming is dead (that is, boring), or at least it appears that way for the majority of Inside as you guide a mysterious boy in danger. Like developer Playdead’s previous game Limbo, Inside is a side-scroller in which you solve puzzles, often through dying and retrying a section of a chapter. But whereas Limbo maintained interest with ideas like a parasite that forces you to move in a certain direction or a switch that causes the entire level to rotate, Inside too often sticks to tedious chores such as dragging items into position so you can jump to higher platforms and swimming away from an enemy who can kill you instantly. (Inside has nothing on Solomon’s Key, Lost Vikings, or One Fine Day.)
The best parts of Inside are the weirdest, such as when you have to lead about two dozen human-like experiments or when you are absorbed, in the last chapters, into a blob with human appendages. Outside of these experiences, director Arnt Jensen tries to coast on the morbidity he established in Limbo. One should question why, for the second game in a row, Jensen insists on allowing the camera to linger while the child protagonist meets his doom in any of the articulately constructed death sequences. This instance of repetition, as in the more uninspired platforming sections, seems to point to an easy business model rather than any personal or artistic motivation, in contrast to Edmund McMillen’s undeniable, controversial thematic purpose in The Binding of Isaac via Zelda-inspired dungeons. Inside’s child endangerment will equal automatic deep meaning for many critics and audiences.
Both Limbo and Inside emphasize the feeling of being trapped in a dark place, but the latter adds ambiguous science fiction. The game implies the boy you control is science gone wrong, and the aforementioned blob brings to mind the monstrosity in the final third of the anime film Akira. “Look at what humankind has done” is an intended moral reaction in Inside, but that doesn’t mean the story is even halfway done right.
Why let the boy be absorbed by the blob and have the creature die once escaping from “inside”? Jensen and company hammer you over the head with fatalism beforehand, only to offer the disappointment of pathetic death as freedom. Inside’s primary ending doesn’t have the conviction of the conclusion of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which illustrates what its protagonist represents in a culture and time and how his death reveals the misguided philosophy of a machine-like institution. Because you rarely have a sense of what’s going on within the boy, or within any of the human-like experiments, Inside’s primary ending suggests there is no meaning to struggle, that if you want to get out of the system, you might as well die because you are a shell. This inarticulate statement risks being seen as profound to an indie gaming scene prone to self-pitying, half-assed intellectualism.