On the surface, some might wonder exactly what all the fuss is about. It could be seen as just a simple side-scroller, with limited controls and an ending that raises more questions than it answers. But, at least to me, that only served to add to the beauty of the game. If there’s one thing that Inside proves, it’s that controls and the way the game is played do not need to be complex for a game to be interesting. The main point was the tantalising obscurity of the story and every player’s inevitably desperate search for the truth, or at least some semblance of it.
The game pretty much throws you in at the deep end without so much as even one armband. All you know is that you’re a nameless young boy who appears to be running from something, and judging by the nearby men and trained dogs who will kill you on sight, they’re the ones you’re trying to escape. There’s no dialogue to help you along the way, no cutscenes, and certainly no context; the game is almost like a puzzle that you have to piece together yourself, as you run, sneak, jump, climb and swim your way through various landscapes, including a forest, a farm, a factory of sorts and a body of water.
Along the way you’ll come across a host of puzzles, many of which will be relatively painless but will have you scratching your head at least a few times nonetheless. Each one is different from the last, and to find a solution you’ll often have to make use of the landscape or items around you; a farmyard puzzle will have you enlisting the help of a flock of chicks, whilst many of the underwater puzzles will involve a submarine.
As I mentioned before, it’s quite clear from the outset that you’re being hunted, although the reason why is left largely to your imagination. Make no mistake that if you get caught either by the men, the dogs, or the searchlights, you’ll typically die a visibly gory and brutal death; a notion that becomes significantly darker when you remember that you’re playing as a child. Inside’s sinister feel becomes suffocating at times, the greyscale environment almost threatening to swallow you whole whilst menacing dangers are either hot on your trail, or just around the corner. And of course, there’s the ominous mystery of what you’ll find at the end, if anything.
That's all without even mentioning the humanoid, ‘zombified’ creatures. As you play you’ll see them attached to machines through which they can be controlled, kept underwater and shuffling awkwardly through the factory. At one point you’ll be forced to try and blend in with these ‘zombies’ to avoid getting caught, by copying their exact movements in a sort of test. You’d better hope you don’t mess up either, as those who were once hunting you are looking on, presumably searching for anyone who doesn’t belong.
There are a lot of theories surrounding the game, since there are no official answers. Some speculate that the creatures have been ‘zombified’ purposefully so as to create a completely docile and obedient workforce or group of test subjects, and that the young boy is the only one to have escaped it. Others theorise - and this has indeed been backed up by the game’s secret ending - that the boy himself is being controlled, by none other than you, the player. Many wonder who those in charge are, and what exactly it is that they’re looking for. Perhaps they’re also being controlled, by an even higher power.
But then you’re faced with the ending, a rollercoaster of twists and turns that I doubt any player would have been expecting. You eventually come across a mass of limbs, most likely a test subject, being held in water. Your mission is to release it, and once you’re sucked inside of it you’re able to control it, sending it hurtling through the factory, destroying anything in its path until eventually it escapes, and sits motionless as the credits roll. No answers are given, no hints of any kind, and, for me at least, the ending felt like an entirely different game to the rest of it; purely because it was so out of the blue.
Of course, theories abound as to what the ending means. Some suggest that the game is symbolic of the act of sex and conception, which is a pretty far out idea. A couple have posited that perhaps the ‘blob’, for lack of a better name, was controlling the boy and drawing him in, so as to try and escape with his help. There are even claims that the higher powers knew the ‘blob’ would escape and even planned it out in advance.
The complete lack of answers leaves the game wide open to various kinds of guesswork as to its true meaning, something that Playdead have done before with Inside’s predecessor, Limbo. No matter what the meaning may be however, many agree that Inside is a beautiful game. At times, it almost seems more like a work of art. Its stunning visuals, silent storytelling and truly unique feel all serve to prove that Inside will have anyone hooked from beginning to end.