Welcome to I’m Still Talking About… My 2016 end of the year feature where I find ten games that defined the indie game scene for me this year.  These aren’t the best games of 2016, they’re not the must-plays, they are the games that have refused to leave my thoughts, the games that got under my skin.  For better or worse, these are the games I’m still talking about.

 

Playdead’s announcement of Inside at E3 2014 was a much-needed announcement for the Xbox One.  Microsoft was still reeling from a launch where they had been painted as the bad guys for building a platform that lacked a focus on games and indie games in particular.  The days of Summer of Arcade seemed to be a distant memory and Sony had been snapping up exclusive indie development contracts for some time.  Inside reminded many people that Xbox had been the first console to discover the indie game scene and still had some tricks up its sleeve.

It’s possible that some dismissed Inside as being too much like Limbo with its grisly deaths, washed out aesthetic, and nihilistic message, but such an observation is lazy at best.  Inside is a game that simmers with unrest and nastiness.  While Limbo let its unsettling tone resonate in the atmosphere and have players draw their own conclusions, Inside is far more pointed in its reflections on humanity.  The game wriggles its way into the pit of your stomach and uses haunting imagery that can not be forgotten.  Oh, and there’s also a series of clever puzzles that beautifully intertwine with Playdead’s overarching message of conformity and the function of people.  That’s why I’m still talking about Inside.

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Is it really THAT good?

The short answer: yes.  Inside is one of the best games that came out this year.  Let’s start with the basics – it’s a visually pleasing game, with smart mechanics, and additive design that keeps you pushing forward.  By the simplest of definitions, you could drop Inside in front of anyone and they would quickly be able to tell you that it’s a good game.

Playdead’s first smart decision is revisiting the level design that worked so well in its first game.  Inside is a series of physics-based puzzles that are at the same time simple in their mechanics, but difficult in their solutions.  Unlike some puzzle games, there’s no kinetic skill required when you play Inside.  The game intentionally gives you long periods of the quiet to experiment with the many puzzles and play around with the physics of the game to discover the solutions.  This slow pacing also makes the moments of action feel all the more intense.  When enemies are introduced that will chase and hunt you, the game doesn’t need to crank itself to a blistering pace to increase the tension.  It only needs to incrementally increase the speed to create the same kind of tension as a car chase in Grand Theft Auto.

On a personal note, I felt Inside was a more friendly game that Limbo.  While the first game seemed to delight in the grisly spectacle of player failure, Inside was a game that seemed to be easier.  It invited the player to progress and experience its world, as opposed to dragging the audience down with difficult puzzles.

This easier design invites for continued exploration.  Playdead are experts at creating curiosity in their environments.  Oftentimes, puzzles are solved as you explore the space and play around with the items given to you.  Rarely to they punish the player, in fact any death is quickly undone and seconds later you’re right back to playing.   

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Okay, that sounds alright.  But what is the real reason I should play this game?

As stated earlier, Inside resembles Limbo in terms of tone, but is much different in its themes.  While Limbo was made to feel ethereal in its setting, Inside is intentionally designed to feel personal and intimate.While Limbo was supposed to feel like someplace far away from us, Inside uses plenty of visual shorthand to communicate that it is a game that takes place in a world not too far from our own.  As I said in an article I wrote about the game earlier this year, the game leans on dystopian stereotypes to connect us to the setting.

The other departure from Limbo is how Inside’s narrative objectives feel far less personal.  The destination seems fixed and instead of intimate stakes, humanity itself seems to be at risk.  This builds to an unsatisfying conclusion that aims to break all the pieces of the assembled universe, drop them in the player’s lap and say, “Okay.  Deal with this.”

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So you’d recommend it to anyone?

I mean, I don’t think Inside is a game that’s fun for the whole family, but yeah, anyone who loves games should give this one a chance.  I feel particularly confident in this recommendation as a friend who likes game stumbled across Inside and sent me a Facebook message gushing about their experience.

Inside is one of those great recommendations because it doesn’t take a “gamer” to play it, but it’s strange mechanics and visual shorthand provide a more satisfying experience to those who want to look beyond its puzzles and gory death scenes.  It’s a game that keeps giving the more you want to read into it, while still being simple enough to be enjoyed by just about anyone.  Seriously, find an afternoon and give Inside a chance, you won’t be disappointed.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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