Category Archives: Platformer

Game Review: Inside

The end of the year was the perfect time for me to take a vacation of sorts, allowing me to recharge & not even think about work or worry about the constant emails I get on a daily basis.  Fortunately this also coincided with several year-end game sales, thus allowing me to aid in this recharging by spending uninterrupted hours catching up on some games I was interested in but hadn’t gotten around to buying.  Playdead’s acclaimed Inside was one such game that I completed in a single sitting.  I’ve gone on record of saying that Playdead’s previously acclaimed game, Limbo, was a visual feast but suffered (in my personal opinion) from some frustrating puzzles & impenetrable story.  So have they improved with Inside?

inside_xbox_one_cover_art

As with their previous game, what exactly is going on in Inside is debatable, but what’s apparent from the plot is that you control a faceless boy who must traverse a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape while avoiding armed guards, rabid beasts, human-hunting machines & apparently failed human experiments to reach some indeterminate end goal.  What is the boy’s goal at the end of his journey inside the imposing factory?  Does he even know?

Inside is 2.5D sidescrolling puzzle-platformer.  Kid (as I took to calling him as he’s never given a name) must navigate a series of obstacles & puzzles to continue forward.  He can run, jump, climb, push & pull.  There are also sections where he must utilize mind-control helmets to control drone-people to help him solve puzzles, as well as an underwater section involving diving tank.


256-inside-screenshot-1466596552Narrative: There’s a fine line between being open to interpretation & being as opaque as a brick wall, but I feel Inside strikes the right balance between telling us what’s going on & letting players interpret events.  The term “visual storytelling” gets thrown around a lot in game media, but Inside is an example of putting this idea into practice & doing it well.  Without a single line of spoken dialogue or text (in fact, I don’t think there’s any text anywhere in the entire game), Inside perfectly portrays its world, & we instantly empathize with the challenges the Kid has to overcome.  The very first moment of the game is the Kid climbing out of a hole in some rocks & coming across a barrier, with mindless drone-people being loaded into the back of a shady truck, all while surrounded by glowing tanks & armed, masked guards.  Whatever’s going on, it’s not good.

Inside also does an excellent job of exemplifying “transformational media,” or the idea that each person who views a piece of media will take away their own unique experience.  Because the plot is just vague enough for us to never truly be sure of what’s going on, we build our own interpretations, & thus the story changes a little bit for each person.  The way I interpret events might be different from the next person.  Who is the Kid?  Did he intend for the outcome?  What really happened to this world?  But it leaves just enough questions unanswered to make us what to see what comes next.

I also have to say I really enjoyed the setting for Inside… if you can enjoy an oppressive, potentially doomed world.  Not only are there strong Orwellian, 1984 vibes, but it reminded me a lot of a short-story we read in high school called Harrison Bergeron (check it out if you’re a fan of dystopian science fiction).  Everything is dark & depressing, & each obstacles builds on the horror, making us think the worst of this world.  Outrunning guards, controlling drones, watching what remains of society staring blankly on as they seemingly purchase these drone-people, failed experiments, & finally the Hive Mind… I found the ending genuinely distressing.  Not something to be “happy” about, but if that was the goal of the developers, they succeeded in spades.

Overall, an intriguing mystery that will have you thinking about the game long after you’ve stopped playing.

Score: 5


2016_0719in06Mechanics: I really feel that Playdead perfected the mechanics they set out to create in Limbo with Inside.  The controls are simple & responsive.  Heck, there’s only three controls, really.  Movement with the left stick, jump & grab.  Simple, but everything controls like it’s supposed to.  I didn’t experience any frustrating lags in the Kid doing what I said or ungainliness like I did in Limbo.

The puzzles are also vastly improved.  Playdead seemed to realize that the fun & challenge in a puzzle should come from figuring it out, not in precision timing.  Of course, that might also be due to Inside being less about the futility of action & being stuck in a limbo of death & failure.  The puzzles have just the right amount of difficulty, with the solutions coming very naturally from the player’s experimentation & exploration of the environment.  There’s also a nice variety of puzzles or obstacles, mixing strategic thinking & timing.  I think my favorite was in the flooded base when you have to bait the water baby/siren thing to different parts of the water to give you time to reach the next switch.  Yes, these require timing, but to the point of making you feel tense as you try to swim away from the water baby, & not frustrating.  Although you will probably die several times, it never became frustrating to me, & the checkpoint system is very forgiving so you’ll typically restart right before you died.

Overall, smooth, solid controls & great puzzle-platforming design.

Score: 5


851099-inside-windows-screenshot-the-boy-was-shot-let-s-try-thatAesthetics: I find it funny that when I initially saw footage of Inside, I immediately thought it was from Playdead.  The art style is very similar to Limbo, utilizing atmospheric lighting, heavy shadows & imposing scenery.  The art style is suitably gloomy, & the developers clearly paid a lot of attention to detail.  For example, the Kid’s red shirt is some of the only color in the game.  Everything feels muted.  Another detail that makes me wonder about its narrative significance is the fact that people don’t have faces, but specific people are shown wearing masks with faces on them, like the guards & “regular” citizens.  What does it mean?  And while I’m a little loathe to do so, I give Playdead credit for creating something that made me feel a bit nauseous.  The Hive Mind at the end seriously grossed me out.  I’m not sure if it’s a body horror thing, a blob thing, or the way it moved, but it was very effective.

The musical & sound direction were also spot on.  There’s actually not a lot of “music” in the game, but in its place, we have atmospheric sounds that really help with immersion.  I actually paused the game in the beginning to see if my TV had a headphone jack so I could take in every little sound (sadly, it didn’t).  But again, I think it’s the attention to detail.  Little things like the irregular sound of rain, or that deep booming tone that sounded straight out of Inception, or even how everything goes silent & muted underwater.  Without proper dialogue, everything’s portrayed through noise.  And portrayed effectively.

Overall, shows supberb attention to detail both in terms in visual presentation & ambient sound.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderate.  While this could certainly be a one-&-done game, I think there’s a lot to it that makes it replayable.  For one, it’s fairly short.  I think it took me about three hours.  There’s also an alternate ending that requires you to find all the secret orbs hidden throughout the game.  You can replay from any checkpoint, which is fairly frequent.  And just the mystery of the plot makes it so you’ll want to play again to try to understand it better.  To really take your time & explore to uncover all the mysteries.  Score: 4


Breakdown

untitled

Final Score: 5

Final Word: I didn’t realize until writing this review that I literally have nothing bad to say against Inside, & that’s never happened before, not even with my favorite games.  That fact alone means I can’t help by recommend this game to every gamer.  While the open-ended story might not appeal to everyone, the only people I can really see not finding something to enjoy about Inside are those who only play one specific franchise (like Madden or Call of Duty).

– GamerDame

Title: Inside
Consoles: PS4, PC, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead
Release Date: June 29, 2016

Leave a comment

Filed under 5, PC, Platformer, PS4, Puzzle, Reviews, XBox One

Game Review: Mirror’s Edge

Have you ever been playing a game that made you scream so much, your roommates came in your room wondering what you issue was?  Well, that was my experience with Mirror’s Edge.  Or at least it would’ve been, had after the first rage-inducing moments not wizened me up & I made sure to only play the game when no one else was at home.  So what was it about this game that made me continually yell & curse at a pixelated character?

I didn't realize until the end that the game's logo is Faith's eye

I didn’t realize until the end that the game’s logo is Faith’s eye

Mirror’s Edge takes place in one of the classic futuristic scenarios: a utopian-shell of a society that’s actually a totalitarian dictatorship.  In this Big Brother future, you play as Faith, a Runner.  Runners act as illegal couriers, smuggling messages & packages along the rooftops.  Faith quickly becomes embroiled in a conspiracy to cover up a mayoral candidate’s assassination.  When her sister, a cop, is framed for the murder, Faith sets out to use her skills & contacts to track down why the candidate was killed & who was responsible.  But the cops aren’t going to make that easy, given that Faith herself is a suspect for removing evidence from the crime scene.

Hope you're not afraid of heights

Hope you’re not afraid of heights

Mirror’s Edge is a parkour-platformer set entirely in first-person.  The game alternates between platforming “puzzles,” where you must navigate various city obstacles to reach your goal, & combat.  Faith can use a variety of abilities to reach her destination, from wall running to zip lines.  Although Faith doesn’t carry any weapons, she is skilled in unarmed combat, using her speed to take out enemies.  She can also disarm enemies, & use their guns if she feels so inclined.  To help in disarming, players can activate Reaction Time, which slows things down momentarily, making it easy to read the cues when you can safely disarm someone.

Narrative: I can’t help feeling there’s a lot of things the game just fell flat at conveying.  The overall plot makes sense, in that I get what’s going on, but there are a lot of nuances that just don’t stick.  The big one to me was why is this new government so bad?  I get the sense they’re going for this Big Brother vibe, but I just don’t see it.  The game just doesn’t show why the government is bad & why the Runners are good.  It only mentions protests twenty years prior to the start of the game, where Faith’s mom was killed when they devolved into riots when the police tried to stop them, but they never just come out & say, “This is why they’re bad.”  It’s like we’re just expected to take for granted that the government’s bad.  It can’t be all bad if the only crime that exists is illegal communiques.  I was also a bit lost about the whole Project Icarus thing.  So the government wanted to train soldiers to hunt the Runners to bring the Runners under government control to work as terrorists?  The ending was also crap.  It just ends with Faith & Kate standing on the top of a skyscraper.  Great, I saved my sister.  But what about all those soldiers who were trying to shoot me three seconds ago?  Did they just give up because I blew up their helicopter?  Aside from those complaints, most of the characters had distinctive personalities, & I felt they did a good job of establishing the relationship between Faith & Merc.  But (again) I saw that double-cross coming a mile away.  So overall, the plot is serviceable, but expected the player to believe more than what the game provides for.  Score: 3

Takes guts to fight a swat team unarmed

Takes guts to fight a swat team unarmed

Mechanics: I really could’ve gotten into this game… if it hadn’t worked so hard against itself.  The first-person view really lends itself to getting you immersed in what you’re doing.  Scenery blurs as you run, the camera wobbles, & you can see your arms & legs.  But every time I started getting in the flow the game, becoming one with the parkour path, the game would knock me out of it like getting hit by a semi.  The two biggest problems in terms of gameplay are the combat & controls.  The game relies too much in later levels on making you take on large groups of enemies, & you can’t progress until you do.  But the combat system isn’t geared for fighting large groups.  It’s more designed for taking on a few enemies scattered out.  Faith can regen health, but she can’t take many hits.  A problem that becomes very noticeable in the last two chapters when enemies get machine guns.  The game would’ve felt so much better if they either stuck to smaller groups of enemies or letting me run away from them all together.  I really enjoyed the scenes were I had to duck & dive from a sniper or run away from Runner-trained soldiers.  Those parts were exhilarating.  The second problem is that the controls aren’t precise enough for the platforming, especially later.  I found Faith moving at times I didn’t tell her to, usually resulting in her falling off a narrow ledge.  I also found myself glitching through some of the obstacles, somehow climbing up places I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be able to climb.  I think a lot of these issues could’ve been avoided if they’d used different buttons for jumping & climbing.  As I said, it’s a shame these problems draw you out of the experience so much, because there are nice sequences that really make you feel them.  Score: 3

Moody art

Moody art

Aesthetics: Mirror’s Edge has two distinct styles.  In-game, the visuals are nice & crisp, with plenty of bloom & contrasting colors.  I really like the aesthetics of the city.  It looks slightly futuristic; like everything has this metallic sheen to it.  I think it lends well to the feel of being on a rooftop.  The colors also make it easy to see the bright red items that mark your path.  During the cutscenes, however, the style is simpler.  They use cell-shaded animation.  It’s a matter of personal taste whether you like this stye, but I think the sharp contrasts in color and shading fit in well with the regular look of the game.  It kinda looks… harsh.  Edgy, I guess.  The sound design is also pretty good.  I liked the music in this game, although I noticed it tends to fade in & out at random.  It’s electronica, so some people might not like it, but again I think it fits with the game’s themes.  The voiceacting is also pretty good.  Score: 5

Replay Value: Limited.  I think the replay value for most gamers will come from the time trials & race options.  These are smaller snippets from the levels where you compete for a faster time.  You can also download other gamers’ “ghosts” to race against.  I think for players who liked the parkour aspect, they’ll get the most enjoyment out of these levels.  Score: 3

Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 3

Final Word: Mirror’s Edge is an interesting attempt at something new that doesn’t quite meet expectations.  Hopefully, if there is to be a Mirror’s Edge 2, the developers will learn from others’ critiques & focus more on parkour & less on fighting.  But as it stands, I think it’s at least a good rent for someone with a weekend to spare.

– GamerDame

Title: Mirror’s Edge
Console: PC, PS3, 360, iOS
Rating: T
Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 11, 2008

1 Comment

Filed under PC, Platformer, PS3, Reviews, XBox 360