Much has been said about the last twenty minutes of Inside. And rightly so – it's one of the most intense and intriguing sections of any game in recent memory. But to focus solely on those moments would be to do a disservice to what is a consistently excellent experience.
Indeed, from its very first second, Playdead's sophomore effort makes it clear that it has plenty to say, but not much interest in simply saying it. Under its typical indie puzzle platformer veneer, the game quietly examines the way we abuse and exploit bodies, humanity's oft-indulged aptitude for senseless cruelty, and the violent and desperate measures we'll take in our quest for control. It interrogates all of these ideas and more without a single word of text or dialogue.
"Inside quietly examines the way we abuse and exploit bodies, humanity's oft-indulged aptitude for senseless cruelty, and the violent and desperate measures we'll take in our quest for control"
Instead, it relies on subtle visual and auditory techniques. The camera constantly sways, never allowing you to feel settled or secure. As the levels progress, more and more layers are added to its otherworldly soundscapes until they begin to stifle and suffocate. The environments feel decidedly similar but in actuality oscillate between stark cityscapes, manufactured wildlife, and uncomfortable hybrids of anatomy and industry.
The real genius, though, is in the way the game uses its mechanics to force you to engage in the behaviour its narrative takes to task. More often than not, you're the victim – trapped in an oppressive system and therefore beholden to its rules and values. Sometimes, however, you inadvertently become the perpetrator – exploiting others through mastery of the very tools your erstwhile captors have used to exploit you.
This focus and economy of design means you're never allowed a second to relax – everything you do is directly tied into the puzzler's themes and story. It also means that it never rests on its laurels. Each puzzle introduces a new mechanic that builds on all the previous mechanics. Just like the narrative, you're given exactly the right amount of information and not a single iota more or less.
Which brings us back to the title's final twenty minutes – a series of visceral and uncomfortable events so at odds with the rest of the experience as to feel illusory and dreamlike. All the clever mechanics, all the narrative subtlety, and all the thematic throughlines; suddenly it's all yanked into focus, and the message becomes painfully clear: we do not own our bodies. Indeed, the structures of our society are built with the express purpose of exploiting them. Perhaps, as the name suggests, it's time we took a critical look Inside those structures.
Did Playdead's latest make it Inside your Game of the Year list? What did you make of the puzzle platformer's subtle narrative? Navigate Limbo in the comments section below.