The RPS 2016 Advent Calendar – Dec 1st: INSIDE

What is the best dystopia of 2016, the official year of the dystopia? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games of the year, daily, and behind today’s door is…


Alec: I like it even more in hindsight than I did at the time, now that the sting of its handful of less successful puzzles has faded and I’m left with the broader memory of the journey as a whole.

My mind returns to Inside surprisingly often. Its freaky sights, its malevolent puzzles, its tar-black comedy, the elegance of its forward motion, the perfect sickness of the ending. It all comes together beautifully.

Apart from the friendly chicks puzzle. I still don’t get the thinking behind the friendly chicks puzzle. No – no, let it go, Meer.

Every time my mind returns to Inside, I want to replay it, then swiftly realise that no, I do not want to repeat the experience. Its black magic would be lost if I knew what was up ahead, was denied the laughter and the horror of what it might spring on me next. Inside’s a ghost train in a way. I’d never want to ride the same ghost train again, but I would want to ride another one, with the same essential system but different surprises.

I love the completeness of Inside. From its seemingly real-world, sinister beginning, through a series of awful, wonderful places and sci-horror themes that imply but fortunately do not over-explain their interconnectedness. The escalation, from simple chase to nightmare pigs to weird science to dreams of drowning to apocalypse to bio-shock destruction derby, is sublime. And that ending. Ideal. Bleak, funny, final.

Inside flows, too. It flows so well. I can barely understand how it achieves it – it’s fundamentally a game about trial and error, which historically I have little patience for.

To play Inside is to be killed suddenly and often horribly without warning. In so many other games that do this, I feel my time has been wasted. In Inside, it is the death that reveals the solution. I can push straight on, with new knowledge, flowing forwards anew. This is such a tight, slick game, with its own weirdo internal logic.

Apart from the friendly chicks. I don’t get the friendly chicks.

Adam: I didn’t like Limbo. My memories of it are of pre-release images, perhaps even a gif, that made me extremely excited about creeping through Another gloomy World. That was always the reference point I was interested in – Another World – but the game turned out a little more like Rick Dangerous, and Rick Dangerous is my least favourite game of all time.

There are brilliant moments in Limbo, mostly focused around that awful spider and its even more awful ending, but it fell too much into the “walk forward and then die” school of game design for me to tolerate it for long.

Inside is nowhere near as happy to kill you. Yes, the kid you play comes to a sticky end over and over again, but there are whole stretches of the game where you’re just enjoying the background detail and piecing together the workings of the world in your mind, and there isn’t a single dog tearing your throat out and none of the men are trying to smother you.

Exploring Inside, which mostly involves going from left to right and occasionally stopping to solve an environmental puzzle or do a bit of swimming, is delightful. It’s dark and moody and dystopian, but there’s a lightness of touch in the animations and, as Alec argued earlier this year, later developments are so grotesquely absurd as to be equal parts horror, tragedy and black comedy.

I found it creepy, strange, disconcerting and shocking. John’s reaction to the final act was one of disappointed surprise, and I was surprised too – but my “I can’t believe they’ve done that” was followed by a short round of applause.

Inside does insert some big ideas into its slender and sinister frame, but that’s not why I loved it – it’s the execution of the big, broad, b-movie elements that I adored, and that the whole thing is short enough to complete in a single setting meant it never lost momentum when I played it the first time. I’ve already played it a second time because it’s the kind of game that is fun to enjoy in company. I’d like to incorporate it into a Halloween playlist next year, in between a couple of films.

Pip: HELLO. I wanted to pop in and remind people about how Inside has lovely animation, particularly when it comes to small-scale movements. I spent an inordinate amount of time just making the boy run to and fro so I could repeat little animation cycles. There’s a really good understanding of how to change posture and speed of movements to imply particular types of mood and behaviour.

John: Awfully sorry to bother you, but Inside was really poor. Pip’s right that the animations were incredible, but the game was badly strung together, woefully misunderstood what made Limbo clever (suggesting they didn’t get their own game), genuinely vile at times, and just so achingly dumb with the stupidest ending to any game ever. Alec has to deludedly imagine that it was aiming for comedy to like it (but not enough to want to play it ever again…), Adam seems to justify its utterly erratic inconsistency of mood as a skill, despite being yet another of its enormous failings. Making me think that there’s some sort of hypnosis spell in the game to which I am for some reason invulnerable. “The game is bad for all these reasons, so therefore it’s really good!” No. No. It’s just bad. It’s a bad game.

Adam: You can tell that John is wrong because he thinks Limbo is clever.


  1. Morph says:

    I hope every entry ends with John telling us why it’s a bad game.

  2. Lamb Chop says:

    I hope every entry plays out an escalating RPS soap opera driven entirely by CONTROVERSIAL GAME OPINIONS.

    • hommesansclef says:

      I find John’s critical writing to be quite, ahem, critical, but he is a games critic, after all. The “contrary john” trope in the comments is a worrying and tiresome development.

      Regardless of his view, John is smart and well informed, and like all the writers on RPS, he is a pleasure to read.

      @Lamb Chop – Didn’t mean to single you out. I think the controversies bring out better thinking and writing. RPS keeps it mostly civil. That’s good!

      • dare says:

        I on the other hand tend to find stuff by John really tiresome these days. He feels like a grumpy old badger who actively dislikes things outside his comfort zone, and moans about them endlessly.

        (This has absolutely nothing to do with his politics. I like John’s politics. I just don’t like his writing.)

        Comments continue below.

      • Beanbee says:

        I’ve found John to be a very emphatic writer, and in that New Yorker or Cronkite fashion a true journalist. Someone dedicated to dogged pursuit of an interview no matter how uncomfortable it may get.

        However, I feel like that is the mainstay of our culture now. Loud critical voices, that are either unwilling or unable to break down the own fallacies of their arguments.

        I guess that would be my highlight, I feel John is a principled writer, who I would love to see argue with his worldview more than individuals he sees as in direct conflict with it, and the art they create.

        • inspiredhandle says:

          This is spot on. Our beliefs should never be sacred, they should be forever changing as we forever scrutinise the world that informs them. If we all did that there could be no hypocrisy.

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      Adam Smith says:

      I would love more bickering. As long as I always get the final word. The eventual end result might actually be articles that change from moment to moment, as RPS writers edit in final word after final word after final word after final word

      We never run out of words, final or otherwise.

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      For the record, I thought Limbo 2 was resoundingly average.


  3. hommesansclef says:

    Logged in to say that I really appreciated the diversity of opinions at RPS on Inside, expressed in John’s, Pip’s and Alec’s writing, as well as in the comments threads.

    I liked that RPS writers and commentors, despite animatedly disagreeing about the game, mostly talked about the game, rather than about why everyone else was an ignorant fascist for disagreeing with them.

    I originally skipped Inside because of John’s article (as I generally agree with him), but having other authors revisit it with their viewpoints, I decided to give it a shot. I was delighted by the sting of the grotesque and impressed with its flow, pacing, animation, color, and lighting work. Happy to see it on the list.

    Great writing this year, all. Thank you for your fine efforts.

  4. Kefren says:

    I bought it on GOG the other day and completed it last night. Loved it. Better than Limbo. It looked good, the puzzles were all doable without looking elsewhere, great sound, lots of great details, a WTF element, and it didn’t overstay its welcome. Give me quality over quantity any day. One of the games I’m glad I bought this year.

  5. fish99 says:

    I was hoping for a chocolate.

  6. Spider Jerusalem says:

    I hated the meanness of Limbo, so I skipped Inside. This has me partially reconsidering that stance.

    • LW says:

      I feel like Inside is fairer than Limbo. You have to be pretty sharp, but there’s signposting for most of the dangers, and you feel pretty clever when you spot them and react in time.

    • Layabout says:

      Do it.. Limbo wasn’t that hard it took me three attempts at most to do the hardest puzzles in that and Inside is like a really easy version of that. I’m 48 and pretty sure I should be in the demographic of people that find games difficult.

  7. xalcupa says:

    Love these calendars.

  8. Laurentius says:

    Ultiamtley I liked Inside, wasnt impressed at first but it ended on fine note for me. A. It’s not as great as Limbo. B. Zombies and I hate zombies.

    Also I can’t accept intepretation of this last sgement as not being comedy, it is comedy and it is actually very good and best part of the game.

  9. The Bitcher III says:

    Admired, liked… not without a few qualms.

    The opening is something you would *never* do in any other medium. And perhaps you shouldn’t in this one. You don’t kill a character without establishing any sense of who they are, or what they are doing there, without explanation or any chance to empathise with them…. because it’s cold. It detaches you, objectifies the character. This goes doubly, of course, if it’s a child.

    Part of me thinks this opening was in line with the historically subversive nature of games…. and part of me thinks… it was just for shock value, or that the objectification was intentional to effectively inure the player from what followed.

    No such qualms about pulling parasites out of pig’s bums. That’s a grade black humour & horror. Some of the later set pieces were just… stunning (the dancing will never leave me). Fantastic art direction, and some really good emergent/reactive music played their part but so did the brilliant combination of character animation and control. and again, avoiding the sonic pulses…. music, art, level design, environment, and the (near) precision mechanics. Stunning.

    I thought the pacing was really good throughout. From how the puzzles announced themselves and gave you just enough time to get in a fluster and sort yourself out before dying, to the overall experience, this is a really nice example of the short game.

    Perhaps the biggest gameplay disappointment was the round up that gated the final section (IIRC). It didn’t seem mysterious or tricky, and it seemed there was no jeopardy.

    For what it’s worth, I felt like the narrative never quite stayed on track. As it went along, themes and motifs that seemed to hint at a depth and direction came and went. Like they didn’t quite have the balls to give us a sense of a real psychology in the child were added and dropped or diluted. Lynch et. al present cracked, fractured, disturbed psyches in their entirity. There IS a story – or several – of character and psyche underpinning every succesful horror film/novel/whatever that I can recall. I realised I wasn’t going to get that. The final WTF was that all about lacked any hook – why would I bother trying to figure it out? They haven’t established any tangible arc that lasts for more than a few minutes. Somehow you just know there isn’t anything going on to be discovered through reflection (or refraction, or replay).

    Having said that, I spent part of last night trying to sell someone on Head Over Heals (97% in Amstrad Action).

    From wiki: “Ritman admits that the storyline lacked real connection to the gameplay. In an interview for Edge, he stated that he “made the whole game up and then added the bullshit in the last ten minutes.”

    For me, that’s fine – and so is compromised narrative in a VG. As long as the mechanics and pacing are good.

    And Inside, they are. A real good, messed-up time was had by all.

    Personally I’d have liked something a bit more challenging at the end, lock away the final secrets and make us die a hundred times in getting to them…. but this is the world we live in. Difficulty is a hard sell.

    Anyway, whilst I’m overthinking and overtyping, I have a bit of Radiohead on the headphones and shall paste lyrics for thee to peruse.

    I jumped in the river, what did I see?
    Black-eyed angels swam with me
    A moon full of stars and astral cars
    And all the figures I used to see

    All my lovers were there with me
    All my past and futures
    And we all went to heaven in a little row boat
    There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt

    Well. Shit. I thought he sang ‘in a little rolled ball’. So.. that’s not nearly as clever a reference as I hoped it would be.

    • someoneelse84 says:

      Are you high?

      Pyramid Song is good though.

    • Kefren says:

      There’s some good analysis there. “The opening is something you would *never* do in any other medium.”
      And you’re generally right. My medium is writing and the early-kill-without-significance is one of the signs of a derivative horror. Though as with all rules, there is an overarching one: “you can break ANY rule as long as the end result works”. And I think it does here, because unlike a book or film where the death is irreversible (without mcguffinery) in a game like thus you get to continue from a few seconds earlier, so it has a different impact and significance. It’s not really a death. Playing Inside last night I warmed to the opening and had no issues with it. Just goes to show that reception is to a large part in the hands of the audience.

      I used to like Head Over Heels but never loved it. Generally the game fell apart for me shortly after I got the two together. I would then flail around, get split up (damn those exploding puppies) and die. When I play that kind of game I much prefer Knight Lore, Fairlight or The Great Escape. Ah, nostalgia!

    • GGiyo says:

      Username sounds fitting.

    • GeoX says:

      “All went to heaven in a little rowboat” is a Tom Waits reference.

  10. Kefren says:

    “Somehow you just know there isn’t anything going on to be discovered through reflection (or refraction, or replay).”

    On the other hand – after finishing the game I decided to read up on it. I found out about the mysterious orbs and what happens when you get them all (I must have missed one or two) and the implications that has for what the game means, and who was really in charge of the boy. If I hadn’t read that I might have discovered it myself on my next replay, in which case the replay would have revealed a whole new element.

    (Then again, I’m a creature of habit, and would probably have missed the same things, but just solved the puzzles slightly quicker and with less head-scratching).

    • Kefren says:

      Oops, that was another reply to The Bitcher III. The edit button must rely on blocked scripts (I can’t edit).

    • DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I think it is impossible to know what is going on on this game with only one play through. You would have to have a near photographic memory to remember some of the details it throws at you. And there are some details with massive implications in this game (especially the room you land in when you break through the floor near the end of the game.)

      • Kefren says:

        I have to admit, I missed that – don’t remember a room near the end with significance. I should have paid more attention! I like things that merit a replay.

        • DelrueOfDetroit says:

          Because that room has zero significance until you have finished the game.

          It’s a game that feels like there are a many interpretations yet every single detail feels potentially significant.

  11. Yachmenev says:

    I bought when they finally ditched the Denuvo DRM, and beat it just yesterday. And for once, I’m with John. I think that there are several aspects of the game that’s really well done, but it wasn’t fun to play it.

    I can accept it being a bit to “artistic” for me, where it leaves everything and everyone open to interpretation that might or might not be somewhere around what the devs intended it to represent, if anything. Not everything has to be for everyone.

    But that it repeats so many sequences that it starts to feel repetitive and annoying despite being not even 4h long is not good.

    Neither is that the game doesn’t allow you to skip death sequences, when you see them for the forth time.

    Or that it overdoes so many sequences, like the submarine, the canons and the ending, that it starts to bore you a bit.

    Or that the structure of the puzzles start to become so apparent that you start moving in the direction you sense is important before the purpose of the puzzle becomes apparent is not good either.

    Or that it tells you so little about everything that boy stops being a character and just becomes an avatar, a vessel for you to see the awesome looking views.

    No. Fantastic graphics, but not a very enjoyable game IMHO.

    • DelrueOfDetroit says:

      “…an avatar, a vessel for you to see the awesome looking views.”

  12. geldonyetich says:

    My decision processes in regards to trying Inside:

    “So, basically, it’s Limbo++.”
    “Limbo was a platformer.”
    “Platformers have jumping puzzles.”
    “Jumping puzzles? I’m out.”

    I’m a dreadfully finicky gamer in this day and age.

  13. wackazoa says:

    Im like John. The ending ruins the game for me. I can tolerate the premise of a game killing a “child” way way too much and a bit too gruesome for far too many times, if there is a point to all the madness. After the witnessing the ending of the game, I still cant ever see the point in it. That the puzzles are good, at times, in my mind does not a great game make.

  14. tslog says:

    I felt Limbo 2 was average too.

    Too much middling pacing schedule filling puzzles, unnecessary traversal, and crucially not enough story telling. Not necessarily story explanations or ultimate motivations, but crucial world filling would have helped this game so much.

    Another let down.

    • tslog says:

      Forgot to add that Inside was twice as long as per it’s repetitive filler content. Another game made worse by the value for money obsession.

      • tslog says:

        thats twice as long as it should have been.

        – Tired to save an edit but it never works for me.

  15. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I’m closer to John’s position here, overall, but I really disagree that both Limbo and Inside are about trial and error. I’m pretty sure you can always see what’s coming, plot a quick solution, recognize danger. Sometimes it even requires you to pause for a few seconds, but in tight sequences, when you are being chased, solutions are even more obvious.
    Perhaps the developers should have made the dangers more clear, like put floating icons next to everything you can interact with, but personally i kinda dig that I need to pay attention myself. If something looks like it could kill, maybe stay away?
    I know most of my deaths were me wanting to test my guess whether something was a trap or not. After all, there were no consequences for dying, and some of the kills were hilarious.

  16. Unsheep says:

    Yes but …. €20 for a 2-hour game ?! That’s more expensive than going to the movies.

    While you media folk get your games for free, the rest of us have to pay for them with our hard-earned money, and charging €20 for just 2 hours is plain greedy. For comparison, would anyone pay €20 for a 2-hour DLC ? I think not.

  17. Barts says:

    I’m with John on this one. Beautifully animated amalgamate of atmospheric setpieces that doesn’t make sense as a whole. Perhaps Limbo was not a better game, I think Inside is, but Limbo was a better experience overall (at least for me).

    And that ending. I abhor that ending.

  18. Boult Upright says:

    Limbo was good. So is this. If you think otherwise, you me carpark now

  19. Shazbut says:

    I’m back to this article over a month later, now that I’ve completed it. It is obviously a very good game with the greatest animation and tactile sense of control maybe ever.

    I don’t know how anyone can possibly claim it’s bad.