TLDR; Inside is pretty much the best indie game
Yesterday, I started the game Inside and today I finished it. It’s a game I bought not too long ago, but hadn’t had the time to play. I finally got to play Papers, Please the other day, so I figured I shouldn’t stop there. I got sidetracked before I could begin though, I mean, after turning the game on, it just sat there at the main menu while I was tinkering with something else. My wife asked me what it was and I suggested she give it a try. She didn’t like it, so no this isn’t a cute story of a wife and a man playing a video game together in marital bliss. She played it for about two minutes before putting it down saying “I prefer action games”.
Of course, the game has action, but I knew what she meant. She likes shooting games and beat-em-ups, and doesn’t want to jump around and solve puzzles in a dark, moody, exquisitely-made game, like Inside. She grew up playing Doom back in the day when her brother wasn’t bogarting the PC. It’s almost a requisite for Inside that you have to have had some formative experience in the genre, so I understand her perspective. In this case, the genre is as classic as Super Mario Bros.; the ‘puzzle platformer’. Over the years, I have played quite a few of these games, collecting all sorts of personal experiences and expectations along the way. All that puzzle-platforming seems now like it was merely a priming for one of the most unforgettable gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
See this? This was nuts
Speaking of Super Mario Bros., it was such an odd creation, if you really think about it. Many games being made at that time were merely ‘reality ports’. For example, Pong was a reality port of table tennis. When Super Mario Bros. dropped, it was a breakout hit. It was this side-scrolling, can’t turn around, go forward through a zany collection of obstacle courses in order to overcome the final boss thing. It was one of the first bright sparks in the almost empty vacuum of a newly born medium; the video game. The idea for a game like this was unheard of and it was certainly one of the early pinnacles of video game design. Playing Inside was like the sequel to the feeling of a Super Mario Bros. entering the world.
I should have seen it coming though. The reviews were stellar, but I’m just not one to get that hyped up about things anymore. Aside for extremely rare cases, every new marketing campaign is just the build up for disappointment. But, yeah… it’s great, and it relieved me of a burden that I’ve been wanting to get out of me for quite some time.
I heard it from Hutch actually. Aaaand he was totally right.
The atmosphere, the sound design, the art direction, … it was all amazing. Playing this for me was what I imagine it must have been like for people to have heard Beethoven during his hey-day. That might be an overstatement, but Inside consistently impressed me. It knows and upturns my expectations. It manipulates game design conventions in surprising, but meaningful ways. It’s all environmental storytelling, with mystery by the bucketful. It takes a genre that most people consider uninteresting and created something that I want to call a masterpiece.
It’s a bittersweet experience though. Not because it’s over, but because of it’s secret ending. Not because the ending is sad, but because a game idea I have been harboring in my heart had an ending that points in that same exact direction. I didn’t actually reach the secret ending, to be frank. I beat the game and was sorta like “???” I looked it up and it turns out there is another ending. I watched a video of someone else playing it and couldn’t believe it. My idea… made real by a team of people who actually have the talent to pull it off. Absolutely fucking great. I feel both exhaled and enriched having played such an game, but it comes with the sharp pain of obsolescence. It was so well-done that it might have killed my dream game.
I’m sure I’ll get over it.
Go play this game, if you haven’t.
It’s my favorite game since… I don’t know…