Wot I Think: INSIDE

I can’t deny that I’ve heard some of the fuss being made about INSIDE‘s [official site] console release last week. I haven’t read any reviews, knowing I was going to be reviewing this myself once PC code came in, but I couldn’t help picking up that people were excited. So I was excited. I rather loved Limbo. I’ve been anticipating this. You can hear the but coming, can’t you? Yeah, but, I don’t love INSIDE. In fact, I’m not sure what there is about it for anyone to love. It feels like an empty, procedural, albeit often beautiful platform game with not a single original idea in its belt. Here’s wot I think:

The game begins with your playing as an unidentified small boy, in an unexplained location, with undefined controls. I like all of that. There’s not a single moment of interface on the screen, you learn by doing, and indeed by dying. (Although I did check the game’s options to be sure that there were only two buttons used here, which is the case.) You move toward the right, because the boy is stood on the left, and you quickly learn that everyone, and everything, in the game wants him to be dead. What’s going on, where you are, why you’re there, is all up in the air – all you know is that danger is behind you, potential safety is in front, so you keep on moving, ducking behind objects, timing your jumps, moving objects to create opportunity, and jogging slowly to the right across barren scenes.

We can’t avoid discussing Limbo at this point. Not least because the above paragraph describes it equally as well as it does this newer game. Playdead’s phenomenally successful silhouetted platformer was a sublime experience – I adored it, and could barely find criticism (beyond technical issues with the port). And specifically, I was strongly in favour of the game’s intent on killing the player. I thought that Limbo did this as a statement, as a means of communicating something to you, to defiantly be a game that was purposefully messing with you. Kieron rather strongly disagreed, and we argued about it on the site. Kieron’s position being that it was bad game design, Rick Dangerous-esque, to force the player to fail in order to proceed. I contended that this was an exception to that rule, something special, something deliberately taking a mistake other games make and using it as a strength. We still disagree. But I’ve a strong feeling we’d agree on INSIDE, where the same justifications for player death really cannot be made.

Just as with Limbo, you will die an awful lot during your inexorable journey from left to right, and most of the time because you couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen next. Sometimes, you could have. Sometimes – and this is where the game is at its best – it puts visual clues to a potential surprise in front of you, letting you pre-empt it and ‘outwit’ it. And gosh, those moments are great. Until something breaks beneath your feet, or you drown, or a dog tears you apart, or a man throttles you, or a ghostly underwater girl rips your throat open. For no reason, for no statement, simply because I guess they thought it worked in Limbo so did it again.

That’s the other really odd part of INSIDE: you get to watch a small boy be brutally murdered an awful lot. In Limbo there was something horrifying about this tiny wisp of shadow being eviscerated on spinning blades, but it was abstract, detached. INSIDE is simply watching a cartoon kid get brutalised over and over. And you’re made to watch – no skipping a death scene to start over here – sit still and watch the man’s hands around his throat as his body goes limp. Cheers.

At about four hours long, varying depending upon how stuck you get during its more oblique moments, it is a deliberate vignette. And yet despite this, there are long stretches of dreary repetition. There’s a section in a miniature submarine pod in particular that goes on and on and on, having you repeat the same actions so many times, with little variation. And pretty much everywhere, if it has a neat idea for a puzzle, it’ll likely do it two or three times with diminishing returns. It also commits the absolutely cardinal sin of having you escape a particular enemy a number of times, and then scripts a sequence in which you fail to. Bleaurgh.

Let’s think about some strengths. The character animation is utterly wonderful. And it’s never better than when tugging open a door, or ripping boards from a window. There’s such a good feeling of struggle, of the effort. The boy moves beautifully, his jumping and landing madly unrealistic but always rewarding. It controls extremely well, everything feels natural, and that’s very hard to get right. Kudos there. And it’s an extremely pretty game. Or, at least, it begins as one.

This is what’s perhaps most strange about INSIDE – the game begins in near-monochrome gloom, and stays that way for a little while. The first real glimpse of colour is the presence of a flock of chicks, incongruously bright and cheerful in this grey and white world. But as you progress, more colour begins to seep in, and wow, it looks wonderful. Just hints, faded hues, mixed with the light, and the effect is often spectacular. Which makes it odd that it’s an effect it almost entirely abandons by about halfway through. The bulk of the game is spent in squint-inducing dark, with occasional greys, and even the clever use of light and framing dropped in favour of miles of identical grey buildings with grey stairways and grey containers. Well, just take a look at my screenshot folder to get an idea:

Oh, and bloody hell, the ending. I won’t say anything, obviously, but good grief it’s utterly dreadful. Catastrophically stupid stuff. Impressive physics, but the atmosphere of one of those dreadful movies that would be introduced by Dr Terror on BBC2 in the 90s. Not quite where I saw it heading.

Clearly others are adoring this, so read around. I certainly will be now to try to work out what on Earth was going on last week. But I completely didn’t get this. It has a few decent puzzles, all of them boringly repeated. It looks lovely, when it remembers to, but mostly doesn’t. It moves and controls wonderfully, but that’s not so great a feature when what you’re moving and controlling is so bland. I found no pathos, no meaningful peril, no attachment to the ever-dying yet always-living character, and ultimately, no purpose.

Inside is out today for Windows via Steam and Humble for £15/$20/€20.

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  1. iainl says:

    Sounds an awful lot like you’re finding many of the same faults I (and indeed Kieron) had with Limbo, really. Which is curious.

    • Coming Second says:

      It’s Contrary John, so not really.

      • John Walker says:

        Any examples of this to back up your boring insult?

        • ThinkMcFlyThink says:

          Well for my money, I also find your voice often a contrary one among a set of game reviews in that you seem a bit harder to please. I don’t say it as an insult at all given that it’s one reason I like reading your Wot I Thinks (same for Tom Chick’s reviews on Quarter To Three). I don’t have a database tracking your reviews or anything, it’s just perception. It may be because there are no reviews, so the criticisms you supply in a review aren’t “washed away” when you ultimately give the game an 8.5.

        • Coming Second says:

          Well no, I don’t bookmark your work and am not paid to cycle through the annals of RPG to build a case against you, so cannot offer the devastating critique that I would love to – beyond the extant fact that you disagreed with a fellow reviewer about Limbo, and are disagreeing with the majorative opinion on its follow-up for the exact same set of reasons.

          All I can offer is this – when I saw at the top of the site a negatively framed review for this game and clicked on it, my train of thought was “Oh, that’s interesting! Most reviewers thought this game was good, but RPG don’t. I wonder wh- oh, John Walker. Right.” The impression I have built about you as a reviewer may be entirely unfair, I readily accept that. In fact I actually nodded along a bit here, when you were talking about the game refusing to allow you not to watch a child get brutally murdered over and over again – it seems odd to me that nobody else has questioned how appropriate that really is. However you thought that was more than ok in Limbo because… it was stylistically different? Sorry?

          • Coming Second says:

            *RPS, sorry.

          • Rizlar says:

            “However you thought that was more than ok in Limbo because… it was stylistically different? Sorry?”

            Erm yes, that’s how it works. Eg. Wiley Coyote getting an anvil dropped on him. If it was a more representative, understated depiction of a coyote being crushed by an anvil it would be pretty fucked up. Style can absolutely influence how something comes across.

          • Coming Second says:

            Absolutely. Glad we’re on the same page. Now explain how Limbo is stylistically different from Inside.

          • iainl says:

            It’s fair enough, and I’ve no idea why anyone would think John is disingenuous about it. But the extra level of monochrome minimalism in Limbo (the kid’s just a silhouette) allows many to have enough detachment from his repeated dying that means they can still enjoy it. Inside is less abstract, so I can see why he’d find it a bit too uncomfortable this time.

            But I felt all that in Limbo; well before halfway I was feeling uncomfortable with the leering death in a way that was beyond the general miserablism that they were shooting for. So while I can see that the difference in styles would make that difference for John, I don’t think it would for me.

            So yeah, this is another example of how Mr. Walker and I may not always agree, but his argument’s clear enough that I can get an idea of whether or not I’d like a game anyway.

          • Rizlar says:

            “Now explain how Limbo is stylistically different from Inside.”

            As you asked, stylisation isn’t just about level of detail. As mentioned, Limbo uses silhouettes, big heads etc. From what I’ve seen of Inside it uses naturalistic lighting and proportions. Look at the sky in that first screenshot, it’s clearly going for a more ‘real’ look. Limbo’s like a shadow puppet show, the dof effect makes it look desk-scale. Inside looks more like an arty, live-action film.

        • frightlever says:

          That is SUCH a Contrary John thing to say.

        • Xocrates says:

          Honestly, your experiences are so often so different from mine – and often the consensus – that on more than one occasion I wondered if we played the same game.

          This is not to say you’re doing a bad job on your reviews, but let’s not pretend the “contrary John” moniker isn’t justified as a sort of friendly jab.

          • John Walker says:

            I disagree, because “contrary” implies taking a different position in order to differ from the consensus. Or as I prefer to call it, “lying”. And I don’t lie.

        • Scelous says:

          Eh, I think it’s pretty blatant if one searches the archives. You hate the Vive. You hate Hyper Light Drifter. You hate INSIDE. And if “hate” is too strong a word, change it to “had a negative reaction to.” And of course you had a soft spot for Homefront Revolution, giving it a recommendation. Of course you did. I assume you hate Overwatch and Civilization and XCOM and any other well-liked game.

          Honestly, when I saw the initial blurb for INSIDE, before I even opened up the WIT, I knew it was from you. And that’s bad. Not because of the negative reaction, which I think can be refreshing in cases of well-loved games. Rather, because your negative reception is expected. It’s made me discount your opinions because it genuinely does seem like you enjoy being contrary just to be contrary, and this is based on consistency of your reactions. “Wait, wait. Let me guess: John Walker thought it was too hard and didn’t like it!”

          Obviously it’s your site and you should write what you want. If the readers like it, more power to you. Seriously. I’m just stating my own personal opinion, how I reached that opinion, and the effect it had on me as a reader (to discount your articles due to how rote they feel).

          • Aetylus says:

            I do find my reading process for these articles being something like:
            Read “’m not sure what there is about it for anyone to love. It feels like an empty, procedural, albeit often beautiful platform game with not a single original idea in its belt”
            Think: “Holy cow RPS is giving this game a panning, it must be crap.
            Then think: “Oooooh… maybe John wrote this one”
            Check: ‘Yup, he did”.
            Understand: There is a mildly inverse correlation of John’s views and mine for game. Find alternate review.
            Have a wee chuckle: Over Contrary John thread in comments.

        • Jakkar says:

          Just to be Contrary Jack, I’ll note that while I’m aware of the impression and I can see why people hold it, I’ve never found your articles to be contrary to my own views and tastes. I’ve often made a purchase, or not, on the basis of your writings – and speaking as an elitist, picky snobbish git, I’ve very rarely been disappointed.

          As for why you’d seem contrary, I suspect you, too, just think too bloody much, and look too deeply into things. It’s a terrible affliction/an incurable addiction.

          INSIDE? Some games just don’t have a soul. This sounds like the product of performance anxiety; “Shit, we made Limbo. Can we do that again? How? Let’s just… do it again! Why did people like it? Dying child in misery-land. Yeah!”.

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            particlese says:

            Well said.

            My contrary (to the dislikers) contribution: John does perhaps dwell heavily on certain aspects of games or reads very deeply into others, but I see no problem with that. It’s wot he thinks, and RPS make no bones about that. If others have a contrary enough opinion, they might reveal wot they think, or — probably more often — share a multi-author chat about it. Also, some of John’s hang-ups and reasons for excitement are similar enough to some of mine that I often find them useful, so cheers.

            As far as John disliking well-liked games, I offer the counter-example of the Hexcells games, but I’m also not going to go raiding databases for more examples.

        • Freud says:

          I just don’t see how anyone can love Limbo and hate Inside, seeing they are pretty much the same game with a bit different aesthetic.

          • John Walker says:

            You could perhaps see how at least one person differentiates them from the differences I describe in the review.

        • Shinard says:

          Well, although personally I didn’t get the same impression from your review, one example would be “It also commits the absolutely cardinal sin of having you escape a particular enemy a number of times, and then scripts a sequence in which you fail to”. Doesn’t that describe that scene with the spider in Limbo equally well? I don’t know, I’m legitimately curious how the scene in INSIDE is different, or whether you had the same issue with Limbo.

        • noodlecake says:

          You shouldn’t have bitten, John! Now there’s a long thread of people deconstructing the way you review things in a way they probably wouldn’t if you hadn’t replied. :P

          I’ve read some pretty contentious reviews by you before where I’ve thought “What!? This is clearly an amazing, wonderful, beautiful game!”… Particularly with Hyper Light Drifter… But then everybody is different and not everyone enjoys the same things.

          I hate some games that lots of people love. The Just Cause series, Saints Row and Skyrim (although I did play it for 70 hours before deciding I hated it so hate is probably an exaggeration) being right at the top of my list!

    • dorobo says:

      I would like overall game reviews to be more harsh cause often times they just glide over the surface like it’s ok it’s not bad you push buttons it plays things happen it’s a game.. then you buy a game and play it once. In times of marketing going nuts it’s a very healthy approach. And still i think im gonna buy this game.

  2. Monggerel says:

    I assumed I’d hate this (because I hate hate *hated* Limbo) so I just looked up the beginning and the ending on Youtube.

    Was not disappointed!
    If I was smart, or good at writing, or critcizm, or had admirable personal hygiene, I’d point out all the various elements that don’t gel well tonally or game-design-wise or what ever have you, or explain why I think this game, like Limbo, is sophomoric and cruel while wearing a thin mask of empathy over a core that is, in truth, significantly more hateful than (for instance) Hotline Miami.
    I’m none of those above-mentioned things, so:
    Having watched about half an hour of what I assumed to be the most important parts on Youtube including the ending sequence, you’ll either be awed as fuck or pissed that someone could find “INSIDE” valid in any sense and how even dare they. I’m def. in the second category.

    • UncleLou says:

      Hm, I didn’t *love* Limbo like some others did, but I kind of liked it, but I also think I somehow understand what you mean when you say it has a thin layer of empathy over a cruel core.

      BUT, now you’ve made me curious, re: the end of INSIDE. I don’t want to spoil it to myself though as I am not sure yet whether to get it or nor.

    • GAmbrose says:

      I just watched the beginning and end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. What a load of rubbish….

      • Monggerel says:

        I’d actually agree, but I think it’s completely unrelated to getting a half-hour mulligan of a done-in-one-sitting and making a decision based on that.
        And prejudice. Lots of it. Fuck Limbo.

        • Monggerel says:

          *done-in-one-sitting videogame


      • Mike_M says:

        You’ve only watched the beginning and the end of Lord of the Rings and it was still rubbish?

        • Shinard says:

          Tis a joke based on the original comment, pointing our that judging a whole work by just beginning and ending is a stupid idea.

    • jonfitt says:

      Perhaps at the core of Limbo is a cruel designer. But is that an undesirable thing?

      You are by definition trying to avoid the cruel endings that the designer has created. By passing the challenges you deny the designers desire to show you the mangling of the cute sprite.

      The threat that the designer makes against you in many many games is “I will take away your time if you fail”. In many ways that is more insidious .

      In Limbo there is frequent checkpointing; so the threat is “I will do cruel things to this cute sprite”. If the deaths were a cutesy “whomp whomp, try again”, would it have the same satisfying feeling to beat it?

  3. bateleur says:

    “I guess they thought it worked in Limbo so did it again.”

    Possibly. Or possibly the brilliance of that aspect of Limbo was something that worked by chance rather than because the designers fully understood what they were doing there?

  4. Kala says:

    John Walker “Oh, and bloody hell, the ending. I won’t say anything, obviously, but good grief it’s utterly dreadful. Catastrophically stupid stuff. Impressive physics, but the atmosphere of one of those dreadful movies that would be introduced by Dr Terror on BBC2 in the 90s.”


    Andrew Todd “Without spoilers or hyperbole: it’s probably the finest final act of a video game I have ever played. […] At once hilarious, thrilling, sickening, and sad, it made me happier than any game has in recent memory, capping off a brilliant few hours of gameplay.”

    In different critics have different opinions shocker!

    In seriousness, though, it appears this game is marmite. Which doesn’t leave me in a good position, as I’ve always been in the special-snowflake minority that finds marmite to be ok if spread thinly on toast.

    • John Walker says:

      I think it’s worth noting there’s no Marmite from other reviewers – of what I’ve seen it’s astonishingly unanimous, with me standing alone, scared, waiting to be eaten.

      • mrmistermeakin says:

        Is this you being a but silly then?

        Reminds me of an incident recently….

      • mrmistermeakin says:

        Oh, my mistake
        Are you being ‘rather’ silly? ;)

        • John Walker says:

          Just wrote down what I thought of the game I’d played, that’s all.

          • PanFaceSpoonFeet says:

            I read your review and feel what you’re saying, I think you’ve written with integrity, that’s all you can do. At the time of writing this the review was mostly negative, I expect this to be replaced shortly by a glowingly positive rewrite.

          • mrmistermeakin says:

            As other people do, and last time someone disagreed with the general opinion, did you not make a ‘boring insult’?

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            Nauallis says:

            Good god, get over yourself. This review isn’t telling you how you should feel. If you disagree with it, then do that, but be an adult and respect the difference of opinion.

          • mrmistermeakin says:

            I am only pointing out, he feels that when another review disagrees with him/general view, he is free to insult.
            When he is in this position, he has ( a rubbish ) excuse, or calls out people who insult him…

            At no point have I talked about this in relation to my opinion on the game, rather that he is a bit of an ass

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            Nauallis says:

            And pointing this out helps how? From this reader’s perspective, you look like the jackass right now.

          • mrmistermeakin says:

            So when people go around insulting others, but get all sissy when the exact same thing happens to them, that alright?
            Comment section – I am commenting on this…

            Besides the fact, in another comment, he feels it should be pointed out he is the ‘only’ one who didnt like the game. As in, he is aware of everyone else’s opinion. When another reviewer was in his situation, he insinuated that said reviewer had done this to attract attention, and the insinuation was in a negitive way.
            This is RPS, the website that oplen tells you ‘we dont tolerate rudeness’, but then is allowed to be itself?

      • Kala says:

        Poor John :(

        (And good point, it only seemed like marmite as I’d read a grand total of 2 reviews, so your lone voice in the wilderness was elevated to 50% of All the Opinions ^^)

  5. gbrading says:

    Very interesting. I enjoyed Limbo a lot up to a point (I felt it ended really abruptly and poorly), and Giant Bomb wrote a fawning review for Inside which clashes with John’s view here. My biggest concern was that Inside was going to be essentially Limbo 2, and this review seems to indicate it’s very much that.

  6. Kala says:

    lol, just caught the grumpy red top “Wish it had stayed outside”

    very good :)

  7. Turkey says:

    I like that Kieron’s comparison for Limbo is Rick bloody Dangerous instead of Another World.

  8. MaxMcG says:

    I loved Limbo and Inside looks really appealing to me, despite this review. I’ve a feeling I will still love Inside when I play it – I suspect that opinions of this game will vary a lot from person to person, depending on taste more so than with other games.

  9. Yachmenev says:

    You know it’s a John Walker review when you search for the word ‘dreadful’ and find at least one match. ;)

  10. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    Well, I hated limbo, for the opaque, wushu washy storyline, the needlessly colourless game world, and the crap puzzling. Glad to know that this is more (less?) of the same. Back I go to Ori Definitive.

    • tigerfort says:

      I like the idea of Wushu-washy, which is presumably something that’s half-heartedly combat-based.

    • Laurentius says:

      Really ? Out of myriads side scrolling puzzle platformers in recent years i can honestly say I value only two: Limbo and Ori.

    • Sarfrin says:

      Needlessly colourless? Like those superfluously monochromatic shadow puppets,those unnecessarily single-hued silhouettes and that perversely black and white text people still insist on using in this day and age when we’ve finally invented colour?

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    FhnuZoag says:

    I think what I liked of Limbo was its blackly humorous tone, that reminded me of the works of Edward Gorey. Is that what’s missing here, that it’s more a straight horror? I did have my concerns with the less cartoonish art style.

  12. supercakman says:

    Man. VERY different review from all the other reviewers.

    I loved Limbo as a concept, but ended up feeling it got TOO pretentious with itself by the end, refusing to deliver any kind of actual payoff with its abrupt ending. I get that it was artistic and more about creating a mood and letting you figure it out yourself, leaving things open to interpretation and all that hullabaloo, but I can’t help but feeling I’d have enjoyed it more if it had some kind of solid premise to latch onto.

    That being said, I definitely want to play Inside now to see who I agree more with. I’ve been in the situation before of being at odds with everyone else in the reviewsphere. I found The Last of Us to have excellent gameplay, but absolutely awful, cloying, obvious storytelling, and it infuriated me to no end after the game came out seeing how many people adored the game not based off its gameplay, but its storytelling alone. I’d love to see how I feel about Inside!

    • TonyB says:

      That’s the magic of opinions, I found the gameplay mechanics in The Last of Us to be intensely frustrating (which I think still made me a bit of an outlier) and I’d have given up long before the end if I hadn’t been enjoying its storytelling and characters so much.

      • Premium User Badge

        Vandelay says:

        I thought I was the only one! The Last of Us is one of the few games that I have really regretted sticking on hard difficulty. The zombies demanded headshots, but twitched in annoying ways that meant aiming was awkward. Humans encouraged stealth, until the game would suddenly decide you could no longer stealth and sent a wave after you. This was whilst there was a scarcity of ammo and limited supplies to create health kits (nothing more annoying than opening a draw to find it empty.)

        As you say, the characters and plotting were second to none, making a great and touching tale that kept me wanting more. I dreaded any enemy encounters though. The “puzzle” sections were too simplistic too.

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      alms says:

      Man. VERY different review from all the other reviewers




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    Ben King says:

    The description of the debate regarding mechanics and the portrayal of violence in Limbo between John and Kerion was really helpful here. Knowing that some time has passed and I’m a little older and a little stranger makes me wonder how I will handle watching this kid get murdered a hundred times. The same way as 5 years ago with limbo?

  14. DeadCanDance says:

    Jim Sterling gave it a 10/10 so… yeah.

    • DickSocrates says:

      This review has put me off buying it for full price. I wasn’t 100% going to get it today, but it had crossed my mind (and I almost never do that) based on how much I enjoyed Limbo.

      I don’t wait for sales because I think games are overpriced, but I seem to end up hating them far more frequently than most people and rarely feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth. I got SOMA the other day during the sale and absolutely loathed it and I’d been interested in that for years (the initial teaser trailer from 5 years ago is better than anything in the actual game). Me having the contrary view in that case makes me more worried that I’d end up agreeing with John on this. I have also been replaying Limbo again and noticed far more this time around how troll-y it is.

      I’ll pick up Inside once the hype has gone away and the price has gone down to something I’d feel better about possibly throwing away.

  15. Laurentius says:

    Ho,ho,ho someone’s gumpy again…

    Anyway I love Limbo so I am picking this.

    • Mael Milscothach says:

      They say a bad video game is like a box of chocolates.

  16. ROMhack2 says:

    I bought this earlier (on PC so still waiting) but I must say that I tend to find more value in reviews like this I do overly gushing ones.

    Granted I bought this on the back of loving Limbo so my views weren’t swayed by critical consensus, but I had been disappointed by most of the reviews I’ve read of INSIDE — they haven’t bothered to go into any depth and spend more time talking about the atmosphere and colour palette than any lasting impact. At least John explains why he feels the way he does (most reviewers seem unable to).

    So I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think John should feel bad about pulling out his critical stick for this. I wish people would do that more often, to be honest. It’s why I come to RPS, after all.

    Take that BIAS!

    • Punk0 says:

      The positive reviews aren’t talking about it because they feel it’s best to go into it not knowing anything. I wouldn’t post pictures beyond the five minute mark in reviews, either. There is one above that I feel particularly spoils a key moment in the game.

      I liked Limbo quite a bit, mainly because of the atmosphere, but I think this game improved on every facet of it. I didn’t find the puzzles the least bit repetitive, although the mechanics sometimes are. The main ending is certainly unsatisfying in the moment, but after having read a couple things I didn’t originally notice, I began to see the underlying story take form. I wish they would have given a few more answers without the need to dig, but this is a dystopian vision that I’ve never seen before. It has it’s own rules and I don’t think the last act is stupid by any stretch. In fact, it’s what made me start digging for answers. There is also an alternate ending that I feel negates one of John’s main criticisms of the game. To each his own, but I often get the feeling that this reviewer likes to go against the grain. That’s not honesty, that IS bias, even if unintentional.

      • ROMhack2 says:

        Appreciate the reply and I think you’re right about things now that I’ve done some research.

        Still, I really don’t get why developers try to hide things like this. It’s all a bit, I don’t know, clandestine. It seems to take away a lot of personal communication between game and player, insisting that it has to be a conversation that takes into account the wider world because it’s all a massive puzzle in and of itself.

        In FEZ it kind of made sense because that was a very puzzle-driven. Here, it’s like if Aldous Huxley had decided to make a secret message out of all the first letters of all the pages ending in 4, which changed the ending of Fahrenheit 451 so that actually it turned out the story took place in a Universe where books were instead burning people.

        • ROMhack2 says:

          Oh whoops, I meant Ray Bradbury (was going to say something about Huxley originally).

      • ROMhack2 says:

        Me again. I’ve spent the past hour researching more into the game’s ending and I must say that I think you’re more right than I.

        What the game does is strange but it invokes a strong conversation between game and player. There doesn’t seem to be any answers to what’s really happening but rather a demand for us to make our own personal conclusions about it. It all ties in with ideas surrounding the gruesome dystopian world and thus becomes exceptionally weighty.

        I myself am leading towards the notion that the game is using the theme of mind control as a way to suggest that technology essentially pacifies people. I think that makes a lot of sense, especially considering the ‘layers’ involved (one of which directly involves us as the player).

  17. ben_reck says:

    Re: voyeurism of child murder
    It was pretty muted with many deaths falling into the “glug glug” or “crunch” variety. There were a few exceptions of the Clive Barker type.

    Re: originality of puzzle design
    It could be pretty repetitive if that bothers you. It was more original in its depictions of third-party responses to the arrival of the kid, how they responded to his actions.

    Re: overall enjoyment
    It’s an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” game. But we never see the first frying pan which is presumably another sinister testing laboratory. It really is a coherent work of video game/art as the kid moves from outside to inside to really inside to inside while outside.

    Purity of Design.

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    InfamousPotato says:

    Right, so- usually I don’t have much to say, but I feel the need to balance out the negativity here with my opinion (wait, am I being negative about the negativity here? Crap. Ok, I’m going anyway): Really enjoyed your review. It’s always good to hear RPS’ honest thoughts, even when (and especially) they’re contrary to the majority. Your opinions, thoughts, and writing (not just John- all the RPS crew) are why I come here.

    I honestly don’t know whether or not I’d like this game. Maybe I’ll read some more reviews, lest I dismiss the game entirely, but lately, I feel less inclined to play this sort of game. It’s odd, but I’m having trouble caring about games that are so… sadistic towards the player. I got Limbo awhile back and I haven’t bothered to play it, because the idea of walking through a dreary world and dying every two minutes just to learn when to jump sounds rather dull to me (though at the same time, I don’t want to dismiss the devs hard work before I’ve played the game). Don’t get me wrong- I have nothing against games that are cruel to the player- but there has to be a point to it all. Otherwise, I might as well play real life.

    Darn, this comment was supposed to be positive… the visuals look great! The not-totally-washed out grey ones, anyway, and even those look quite alright! Sorry, I think I’ll end this comment before it gets less positive- again, really appreciated your review.

    • Matt_W says:

      You should play through your copy of Limbo. It won’t take very long. I think Limbo started to suffer a bit from hipster fatigue; you know where everyone else likes it so you can’t because hipster. It’s a great game, very atmospheric. It’s one of two or three games I show to my non-gamer friends and they get it right away. You go right, you jump, you die, you have to push that thing. There’s no UI, the visuals are perfect, the puzzles are pretty benign. It’s not like Dark Souls; dying isn’t painful, and it’s easy to maintain forward momentum. Try it; you’ll be charmed.

      • Premium User Badge

        InfamousPotato says:

        Eh, I suppose all I’ve got to lose is time, and I’ll lose that eventually anyway. I’ll give it a try. Thanks, Matt.

  19. Matt_W says:

    Appreciate the review John. I’ll still play it at some point, but you’ve cooled my fervor for it enough that I won’t pay $20 for it tomorrow.

  20. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    “The bulk of the game is spent in squint-inducing dark, with occasional greys, and even the clever use of light and framing dropped in favour of miles of identical grey buildings with grey stairways and grey containers. Well, just take a look at my screenshot folder to get an idea:”

    It’s hard to believe this review is coming from the same man who reviewed 35mm.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      The reason that’s hard to believe is probably because it’s not true.

    • Cederic says:

      The daft thing is that I love the aesthetic of Limbo and John’s screenshots gallery makes me want to play this game too.

      The rest of the review doesn’t, but the pictures do.

      I love that a game developer has chosen a look and feel, committed to it, made it work. It may not work for everybody but there are plenty of games targeting other tastes. This one works for me.

  21. DanMan says:

    I kinda liked Limbo, but I never finished it because… meh…

    So I guess I should stay clear of this – for now. Bargain bin maybe. I’m suffering from Indie Fatigue anyway.

  22. Richard Parker says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing the multi-correspondent “wot we think” (I’ve forgotten what those lovely pieces are called) on Inside…

  23. iainl says:

    Except we’re then back to Gillen’s accusation of Rick Dangerousness. “Beat this screen or I’ll mangle the kid” only works if there’s a realistic chance of you zero-faulting your first run.

  24. flibbidy says:

    well, to agree with the rest of the internet, i thought it looked spectacular throughout, the puzzles were varied and didn’t more me or feel particularly repetitious, i didn’t die too much and often got the timing puzzles right first time which felt great for the flow, the changes in movement mechanics from sub to the end were very fun..

    I think it gets away with the fail sequence you describe because there’s no pretending you could get away – it’s a cutscene that triggers from the beginning of the encounter.

    thinking back to the beginning of the game compared to the end.. it was quite a journey!

  25. Xocrates says:

    Right, just finished it, so here’s my two cents.

    The game is essentially Limbo 2. For better and for worse. I did enjoy it a bit more than Limbo, though part of that was noticing how cleverly designed much of the game was.

    Regarding the kid’s deaths: honestly, Limbo was worse. Both because there the deaths were more explicit and more frequent. The red shirt he uses in Inside is actually quite clever since in the few instances where he is actually maimed (as opposed to just going limp) it helps hide where the blood should be.

    Regarding the ending: Right, this I can see being contentious moving forward. The big “twist” – so to speak – was a truly horrifying “what the actual FUCK” moment, but then the game keeps going for a a bit too long and then it just sort of… ends, which greatly diminishes the impact.

    Like I said: It’s Limbo 2. From the oppressive atmosphere and fucked up world, to the young boy with ill defined motives achieving something you’re not entirely sure what it was or why it mattered.

  26. ephesus64 says:

    Wow. Well, it had me hooked start to finish, albeit with several frustrating “guess, die, retry” sections. Beautiful game, visually. The violence done to the protagonist, though… I’m not sure which of the many ways that the boy can die was the most troublesome.

    I am impressed overall, but I wish they could have held on to the thrill and the feeling of fragility I felt throughout the first few scenes. I agree that the puzzles are a bit thin, especially compared to the richness in some of the more cinematic moments.

    I’m not sorry I bought it, but I don’t know if I can ever recommend it to anyone. The violence is just a bit too real at times–it has that subtle wide-angle absurdity which digs in once you realize what you are watching, the way photo galleries of people killed in wars in The Atlantic can. I’m a bit conflicted about the whole thing.

    Ivan’s Childhood meets Ghost Hound, perhaps.

  27. Setheran says:

    I thought this game was wonderful. I’ve been feeling kind of jaded about games lately, so was pleased that this one had me engaged enough to play from start to finish in one sitting. Maybe I was just in the right mood or something, but the atmosphere, pacing and puzzle solving all felt spot on to me, and I was just absorbed. The only thing that really annoyed me were the secrets you can unknowingly lock yourself out of reaching in some cases.

    There’s a level of detail and realism here that really impressed me. Little things like a man in the background knocking stuff off a control panel as he rushes around it, or rats scurrying around and then swimming through the water, or the various ways you pull apart giant underwater doors and watch the components slide apart and drift away. The physics, audio and animation feel real and grounded ways that most games fail to achieve. And I especially loved the couple of sections where background audio gradually transitioned into music. To me that represents a level of polish and thoughtfulness that most developers are first to abandon for the sake of deadlines.

    I agree with some of the gripes about the ending, though it’s also the thing that kept me thinking about the game long after the credits. It was sort of exciting, disgusting, and morbidly fascinating all at once, but ultimately felt a bit disconnected from what the game had been about up til that point. And the credits sequence just wasn’t a very satisfying end to it all, I guess.

  28. sirdavies says:

    Sounds like this is exactly what I feared it would be since it’s reveal. I found Limbo a bit disturbing in a cheap way, but striking enough in it’s presentation to get a pass. It’s not an idea I think needed to be repeated a second time, let alone with more explicitly violent graphics. Such a shame, really, as the team behind these games is clearly very talented. Just like with Hotline Miami 2, Shelter 2, and a bunch of other games, this gets a big no thanks and what on earth were you thinking from me.

  29. Rumpelstiltskin says:

    To keep it brief, I think it was the best fusion of art, gameplay, and story I’ve seen so far.

  30. ROMhack2 says:

    I finished it earlier and I liked it a lot (except those last ten minutes but apparently that has more significance than I realised) but I don’t think John is too unjustified in what he says here.