Have You Played… Inside?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Inside [official site] is a masterpiece.

I liked Limbo a lot, but I found it frustrating when it killed you in ways you couldn’t have foreseen, and a few of its physics puzzles were wibbly and unsatisfying. Inside fixes both those problems.

The moment I started to fall for the game was early on, when you need to lure yellow chicks into a machine that’s going to fire them at a box. It seemed like the chicks were going to be killed in the process, and my interest in playing the game would die along with them. I really didn’t want to play some mean-spirited sadboy platformer. But then, the chicks survived, unscathed. ‘Trust me,’ the game was saying. And so I did, and it didn’t steer me wrong.

It’s excellent at foreshadowing what’s going to kill you in each new area, using lighting and beautiful animation and accurate physics to draw your eye, illustrate machinery, and point the way forward. It’s remarkable that there are never any words to tell you what to do, and more so that I was never confused. When I did die, I always knew it was going to happen – I just screwed up.

I don’t think there’s anything profound about the game’s world or story. Limbo was maudlin and aimed to tug at your heartstrings, just a little. I think Inside aims to make you cringe, to recoil at the body horror, but also to laugh. It’s operating on the same level as David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

Playdead could make another of these side-scrolling cinematic platformers – or whatever you want to call them – but I hope they don’t. Inside feels like they perfected everything they set out to do with Limbo. I hope they move on to a new genre next.

[This is the most wrong thing I’ve ever read – HYP Ed]

53 Comments

Top comments

  1. Mister eX says:

    I always play inside.
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    Drib says:

    I haven’t played Inside, but I’ve seen LPs.

    The ending kinda bothers me. Not spoiling, after I think about it.

    But you (description cut for spoilers, still it’s phenomenally stupid), and then nothing happens.

    So what? What? what’s the ending? What’s the world about? Who were those controlled people? Who was controlling them? What about the water demon children? What about the flooded buildings?

    No no, nothing is explained. Deal with it, the end.

    That sucks. Don’t create mysteries without any payoff, geez.

    • Justoffscreen says:

      Maybe don’t watch something meant to be played and then bitch about how unfulfilling it is. Even if you watched, it’s pretty clear you weren’t taking in what the game was communicating, or manner in which it was doing so. You were never going to get a straight answer and if you were expecting it to you weren’t paying attention.

      It did and said exactly what it meant to, in exactly the way it meant to. I’m not saying it was deep or had any ambitions of being deep, but it clearly did what it set out to do. It’s complete. Let me guess- you were also disappointed in the LP you watched of Gone Home because there weren’t any ghosts.

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        Drib says:

        “If you didn’t like this game, you must hate that other game in a different genre with entirely different gameplay, because of an entirely unrelated reason!”

        What.

        • Justoffscreen says:

          “I didn’t read what you wrote so i’m going to pretend you wrote something different”

          What, indeed.

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            Drib says:

            I didn’t like the ending to Inside because it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t answer any of the questions raised by the game.

            You implied I must hate Gone Home because… there were no ghosts.

            It’s completely incongruous. Gone Home wasn’t about ghosts. It explains what happened, the questions the player has are largely settled. It wrapped up the story, like an ending generally does.

            If a ghost popped out at the end and was like “Boo!” it would have been extremely stupid. You know, like the ending of Inside.

            Just being like “Well you didn’t get it then, so you must hate everything” is idiotic and you damn well know it.

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            Yeah, it doesn’t really answer any of the questions asked by the preceding game or build on what came before in a way that makes any sense. It’s not a good ending even if you enjoy the horror aspect. It’s extra bad if you don’t.

          • Justoffscreen says:

            “Just being like “Well you didn’t get it then, so you must hate everything” is idiotic and you damn well know it”- except that isn’t what I said. Again.

            I’m sorry that you think your dislike of something you didn’t actually experience in the intended way is as valid as actually playing it. It’s like reading the Wikipedia synopsis page for a movie and then complain you didn’t get anything out of it. Like no shit you didn’t enjoy a game experience that primarily focused on tone and feeling when you didn’t….experience it. The lore and story was in service of the tone and gameplay, not the other way around. It doesn’t answer the questions it raises because that isn’t what the point is and it makes that explicitly clear.

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            @Justoffscreen: I agree playing is the proper way to experience a game but I played it and felt much the same.

          • MrBehemoth says:

            Sorry to wade in, but I wonder if a more useful comparison would be the ending of Firewatch? Many people disliked that because it felt like a let down. Fair enough – but I loved it. It succeeded in doing exactly what it was trying to do – tell a story that didn’t turn out quite like the player wanted, because the real story is in the details and feels that aren’t front and centre in the final scene.

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            I really liked the ending of Firewatch. It plays with your expectations, certainly, but it entirely fits the characters.

    • arienette says:

      It’s a mood piece. The exact details and mysteries don’t matter. I don’t think you’re meant to dwell on them. You just drift along with it.

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        Drib says:

        Yeah, I can see that. It’s just not my bag is all. I got interested in the weird setting, and then nothing was settled. Sort of an anticlimax or something, I guess.

        • Daymare says:

          Okay, you know what, fuck this, here’s your clear-cut answer.

          You’re a boy in a dystopian future where people are being mind controlled. Your boy is drawn to a facility at the core of the mind controlling business where he finds a bio-engineered hive-mind, which he frees, and gets absorbed into.

          At this point it becomes clear that the game is called INSIDE because you got from outside to INSIDE the facility. It’s also called INSIDE because the boy gets INSIDE the hive-mind, while he’s been outside before. It is left ambiguous if he was drawn to it by its own telepathic powers or some other motivation. Sorry if this is too unclear for you.

          The hive-mind manages to escape the facility raging mad. It crashes through the scenery, badly hurt, and comes to rest at the shores of a lake, a peaceful death, because, if you think about it, it was a giant bio-engineered abomination and where was it supposed to go? Hawai’i? And in the course of the events you/it freed a bunch of mind-controlled blokes and destroyed the mind-control business for good.
          There’s your happy end.

          However if you’re the unicorn dream-type of Bladerunner person then here’s a twist for you, because there’s a storyboard sorta image depicting these final events somewhere at the end, meaning that maybe this whole escape was some sort of master plan hatched by the facility. IMO this is kinda unsatisfactoy because while it might be twisty and one-up-y, it’s in the same vein as Deckard being an android himself. If you think about it long enough the answer makes you go … so what? It just kinda muddles the whole message.

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            subdog says:

            This was all abundantly clear to me. But I actually played the game.

          • Daymare says:

            I’d say half my implied point was that there is, in fact, a relatively obvious storyline, so while I get why people feel a it was ambiguous, it’s not like this game was Kafka’s Der Process.

          • poliovaccine says:

            Thanks for that. It’s almost reductive to have to hash it out so literally, in the same way it’s reductive to say Mulholland Drive is about the death-dream of a jilted, suicidal actress, when really it’s also about the dangerous depths of indulgence of fantasy and therefore the thin veneer of identity, using both Hollywood and one-sided obsessive same-sex love as symbols for those things, but it’s an answer, and it’s the one a lotta folks wanted. Thanks for writing it out, anyway… lest those folks think the game “makes no sense.”

            Still, I think it’s an important exercise for people to not be quite so literal-minded, and to try and take things like this game on the level they’re presented – though I recognize that giving the literal summary as you did may sometimes be crucial to folks actually doing that. Symbolism is resonant because it’s beyond human invention, tapping into psyche, which is human developmental history. It’s useful to know in the way any universal language such as math or music is useful to know. Literal-mindedness is necessary to survival, but it can also be a prison and a trap. Literal-mindedness means you may get the story about the little boy in a dystopia, but you don’t get the story about control, and identity and self, and the malleable nature of that in the presence of a crowd, and the preordinance of fate in the shape of psychology and identity, and etc, etc. *That* story *can’t* be told literally. Of course, now it’s just a matter of time before somebody calls that “pretentious.”

          • Daymare says:

            @poliovaccine: This didn’t encompass my experience with the game, it was just my clear-cut explanation for someone who didn’t like INSIDE because they thought it didn’t provide any answers to what was happening.

            The metaphor of the enslaved working class banding together to destroy the establishment (and ultimately becoming one); the terrible chemical fallout this city is enveloped in as a result of its experiments; the various forms of mind control that form this confused and uncertain power hierarchy; and above all the oppressive atmosphere that hangs over the game’s scenery and characters’ actions didn’t escape me.

            As I said in my other comment below, it’s more of a mood piece.

          • theirongiant says:

            The problem with that happy ending is the diorama which suggested it was all known about in advance – certainly gave off some Matrix/Cabin In The Woods vibes. It was a great game to play through, an eerily beautiful experience and a mindworm of a ending.

          • Ducce says:

            This is where it gets interesting:
            Why does some of the people in the facility help and coax the abomination to move forward. And who really controls what in light of the secret ending?

      • poliovaccine says:

        I mean, yes and no. While I agree with what you’re saying, I’d add that it *does* make its own sense, it just isnt a literal story meant for literal-minded interpretation. That’s not the kind of sense it makes. It’s all symbolic, which is far from nonsensical, just means its different bits pivot and hinge at different points.

        That sort of non-literal Jungian dream-language stuff may very well not be your bag – fair play, no argument there. But you wouldnt complain that the act of dreaming is stupid because it leaves things ambiguous and doesnt make literal, narrative sense, would you? At least I’d hope not haha. In any case, I feel like that’s the level this or other things like it (e.g. David Lynch, William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, some Terry Gilliam) is meant to be taken on – not literal sense, but symbolic dream sense. It’s the difference between the far opposite poles of stuff like “hard sci-fi,” for example, on the one end, and “poetry,” on the other, being deliberately blurred, the same way the associative left and analytical right brain are blurred in dreams and dream logic. There’s tons of stories in all sorts of media along those lines, and they’re invariably infuriating to a certain type of audience member who wants clear cut answers and endings, and understandably so.

        But what I’m saying is, that’s not to say there *are* no answers.. they may not be clear cut in any literal sense, but in the symbolic sense, they are clear (and, for me as the audience, therefore suitably profound and affecting) enough. It just takes apprehending it entirely differently, and as much as I’m a fan of that kind of stuff, I’ll be the first to admit it’s not for everybody, and also that it falls extra flat when it’s attempted and done wrong. I dont think INSIDE does it wrong ever, mind you, but just to say, it’s a stylistic choice that doesnt tend to leave anyone on the fence – you either love it or hate it, and you suss out which it is pretty quick.

        • Daymare says:

          I agree with you. It’s really more of a mood-type of thing.

          Always like reading your comments, even if they’re generally very long.

          BTW, LIMBO’s ending was highly unsatisfactory to me, but then it was called LIMBO, so in that regard the ending makes sense. Anway, it was the ending to a darn cool game for its time so I didn’t really mind.
          Same with INSIDE.

          I think Little Nightmares, the game I’d compare INSIDE to (while not 100% similar) has a more satisfactory ending, even if it’s also a bit … wow, what? It felt they built up to it, so it was alright.

          • poliovaccine says:

            Haha, I appreciate that. Though I havent beaten Little Nightmares yet! But from what I’ve played so far, which feels like maybe the first two-thirds, it’s definitely an apt comparison.

            Btw, I didnt play LIMBO, or rather I barelt started it, but your ability to appreciate the way a dissatisfying ending is actually *appropriate* to a game about the concept of LIMBO is exactly the sort of thing I mean to talk about here. You just don’t get the benefit of that added perspective if you are stuck in the strictly literal.

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      nathanw022 says:

      There is a story there, if you look and piece it together and are willing to connect some gaps without 100% certainty.

      The interpretation I arrived at that answers most questions (spoilers ahoy):

      The main character is the blob, who is controlling the boy in an attempt to escape. In the same way that the boy uses the mind helmet to control some of the ‘golems’, the blob with 4 devices attached controls the boy. This is supported by the alternate ending where the boy destroys a mind control device and then ‘shuts down’ implying he too is a golem being controlled by something else. This explains why you’re trying to get inside the facility rather than trying to escape, as is first insinuated, you’re trying to rescue the blob. You control the boy up to the point at which he frees the blob, then you control the blob – yourself, as you try to escape. This escape however is all part of the scientists set of possible plans, and is ultimately unsuccessful.

      You then make your way through the facility. The scientists help you as you try to escape, because they’re actually funnelling you into a trap, the second tank you fall into. When you ‘escape’ you havent actually escaped. In an earlier section you fall into a diorama that exactly mirrors the final scene – this implies that even this final area has been created or is containment of some sort. That’s what I mean by unsuccessful – after trampling through the facility to escape, it ends up on that shore, exactly resembling the diorama, and just stops. I think it stopped because it recognised the scene matched the diorama and gave up.

      The answers to some of your other questions – the controlled people arent people, theyre created golems, as shown by the water room with them in half finished states.
      Why did the facility exist? My assumption is some sort of military facility trying to make a weaponised mind control device, or mass labour using golems. The blob clearly has far superior psychic powers than the boy, so I assume it is the result of some experiment related to the mind control research, maybe trying to enhance the psychic powers by using more biomass.
      water demons? not sure, this is something that really has no explanation as far as i can see. I can only assume that there were other experiments going on earlier that went wrong and they flooded the section to keep it locked down, or accidentally.

    • toallthings says:

      those questions you ask are probably the best part of the game. imo

    • Zaraf says:

      There is a secret ending, which partially answers questions regarding the mind control, btw

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    I liked Limbo a lot. I did not like this.

    I felt similarly about the chicks & machine puzzle early on except did not really buy the believability of their surviving that (in this particular world) and did not find it any less pointlessly cruel as a result.

    There are parts I found intriguing and it can be very atmospheric – I enjoyed the middle where there was mystery and more engaging puzzles – but I HATED the ending. It’s quite accomplished on a technical level but thematically and aesthetically I thought it was gross and stupid.

    It made me much less interested in Playdead’s future games.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Limbo was also cruel and dark, but maybe it was just the right amount of abstract. It was also more thematically consistent.

      I think the problem with Inside also is that isn’t honest about where it’s going. At the start of the game it seems like it might be a story about escaping some kind of totalitarian state, perhaps even towards some hopeful or bittersweet conclusion where you manage to get out and maybe help others do the same… towards the middle it seems to be going more for mysterious government experiments and even mythological themes (the rusalkas), then it devolves into gross body horror. Not was I was looking for.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Though to offset that negativity I will say it is visually stunning and the animation is really good.

    • swigg says:

      In actuality, and most people don’t seem to notice this, but one of the chicks always dies. So there is a real cost to this moment.

      It might seem pointless, especially out of context and in the moment. But it’s actually a foreshadowing/premonition of everything the game is about from there on. To progress, he has to manipulate the innocent chicks and lead them into danger, which kind of shows that the boy doesn’t get to be a hero (and as we find out later, he does not in fact possess any free will or self impetus). This ties into almost everything that comes after, like the way that very first human drone yelps as he crumbles after falling off the ledge when you get in the first mind helmet. You are forced to manipulate others and put them in harm’s way in order to progress, which really shows the continuity of thought with the devs, since this is an extension of the ideas of Limbo.

  3. Stonejackit says:

    “Don’t create mysteries without any payoff, geez.” Wrong. Just use your imagination.

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      Drib says:

      My imagination? It was sectoids from XCOM, popping in for a laugh.

      Creating mysteries and then just going “lol make up an ending yourself lol” doesn’t count as a payoff.

      Nothing is explained, making up my own reasoning is stupid, that’s all I was aiming at.

      • Stonejackit says:

        But why do you think it’s stupid? There are countless examples of stories where knowing less gives you a better experience than have every aspect of the story laid out in front of you or a twist at the end solves the mystery. For example the film version of 2001: Space Odyssey is so much more compelling than the novel it’s based on BECAUSE nothing is explained in the end and you have to fill in the blanks yourself. It’s okay when you like stories better that are bookended, but don’t speak for everyone.

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        subdog says:

        Let me tell you about this game Kentucky Route Zero,

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          You know I’ve started playing that and despite my limited patience for unmotivated surrealism I’ve enjoyed it so far. Maybe the thing that bothers me about Inside is really just the arbitrary cruelty and gross horror.

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            subdog says:

            That’s actually fair. John’s review put me off of it for just that reason, but it came in a bundle and I’m glad I played it.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Leaving some things open to interpretation can be great, indeed often more interesting than leaving everything neatly tied up and explained… but resolving no story threads, leaving no questions answered (or answered poorly) and then throwing your hands in the air and going “it means whatever you think it means!” is just bad lazy writing.

      See also surrealism.

      • Justoffscreen says:

        I said this up above but it bears repeating here – The lore and story was in service of the tone and gameplay, not the other way around. It doesn’t answer the questions it raises because any way they could have done so would have shifted the focus from what they were going for. The only clues you are given are what you can glean in a nonverbal way that meshes seamlessly in with the gameplay and it says a lot about the quality of the dev team by how much information they give you almost subconciously.

        It’s funny you mention surrealism because it’s the same kind of switch. The feeling and your reaction take the fore instead of the content and context. I’m not saying Inside is high art or anything, but they are doing what they are doing intentionally. It’s a rare thing for games to make the focus and by no means am I saying it is perfect, but the industry needs more games like Inside because it forces a reevaluation on what is truly important to communicate and why and still be a worthwhile experience. Just like surrealism.

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          Symbolic or non-literal narrative can be interesting but it feels to me like surrealism is often used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for not bothering to make sense. The game employs environmental storytelling very effectively; I just don’t think the story it’s actually telling is very compelling or well-constructed.

          • bigblack says:

            I’d respond that symbolic or non-literal narrative is often used as a punching bag for people who have an arbitrary requirement that narrative must have a clear-cut “point”, or “goal” which is decipherable and satisfying without even the slightest amount of effort on the part of the reader/player/viewer to piece together events and see the connections which make them a whole.

            I am happy when stories leave enough room for my mind to enter them, instead of shutting me out by filling in every motherfucking detail with PLOT PLOT PLOT and FEELS FEELS FEELS. Thank the gods for games like INSIDE, and for films like those from David Lynch and others, who are thoughtful and sophisticated enough to treat me as an adult. How boring the alternative would be, and already is.

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            Well, I think I made it clear that “filling in every motherfucking detail” is not what I want out of a story at all. All I’m saying is for me this story failed. It’s ending did not leave me intrigued or engaged, or curious to parse its meaning; it left me thinking “wtf was that?”.

    • BewareTheJabberwock says:

      I find it humorous that, in a series entitled “Have You Played…”, the longest *two* comment threads were generated by someone who didn’t.

  4. Mister eX says:

    I always play inside.

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    Don Reba says:

    Someone should make a game called “Outdoors” just to be featured in this rubric.

  6. Coming Second says:

    Maybe it was just a bunch of stuff that happened.

  7. toallthings says:

    “the chicks survived, unscathed.” mine didn’t. two chick stopped moving after they landed back on the floor and I felt really bad about it D:

  8. bretfrag says:

    Played it, but not to the end. I didn’t like the way puzzles mostly involved interacting with the only movable object in the room until something happened. I rarely felt my wits were tested – it was just trial and error. I got to the last puzzle which was more of the same except long-winded and I just completely lost interest and haven’t played it since.

  9. MrBehemoth says:

    This is one of those situations where there are people wrong on the internet, and I’m restraining myself…. so I’ll just say I’ve played through it three times and every time I notice more depth and detail, and enjoy it more. INSIDE is aesthetically, thematically, narratively and mechanically brilliant. Nobody has to agree with me unless they want to.

    • jonny_nemo says:

      I totally agree with you. Definitely the best game I’ve ever played of that genre, and certainly one of the best games I’ve ever played, period.
      Played at night with the lights out and after the family had gone to bed, gave me a chance to immerse myself in its atmosphere.
      I’ve given it a wait before I go back to replay it and get all the orbs!
      Thoroughly recommend it to anyone that likes games outside the norm.

  10. dorobo says:

    I think it’s genius. I think they achieved arthouse film quality but in a game! I need to go for another run.

  11. Ericusson says:

    One of the best games I played in recent years.

  12. AyeBraine says:

    OK, everyone said the things. No use being riled up I guess, I just think that Inside is perfect, and it felt much, much more fleshed-out and complete than Limbo. Better in all regards.

    What I liked the best was the absurdism done right. You are inside a facility that not only commits unimaginable atrocities, not only does so in a cold detached manner, but does not really know itself WHY it commits them (and is also in the process of shaking itself apart, either with some device it spawned, or alternatively a thing it was meant to prevent).

    What’s more, the people who work there got their minds so compartmentalized and inured to the situation, that they don’t even register you when you come right up to them in the control center. The only things they are capable of experiencing are mild anxiety and idle interest – even in the face of death by horrible creatures.

    It’s Gilliam’s Brazil and Lem’s Memoirs Found in a Bathtub for the present day, brought to their logical conclusion. There is no malice, there is no freedom, and there is no solution; but the whole thing is funny in a way, and freeing without being didactic, and probably profound… in the way “I guess we learned not to do it again” at the end of Burn After Reading is profound. Which is plenty for me, thank you.

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