Category Archives: Puzzle

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?

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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

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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

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

Game Review: Antichamber

Making a good puzzle game can be tricky.  To me, the most frustrating part of a puzzle game comes when I know the solution to the puzzle but have difficulty executing it.  At least in my mind, the challenge in a puzzle game ought to be in figuring out the developer’s logic & finding a solution.  It’s a question of intellect, not of skill.  I’m reminded of my time in Limbo where the “puzzles” grew tedious because I kept dying.  I truly believe we, as gamers, should make a distinction between puzzle & skill-based games.  So which category does Antichamber fall in?

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The End

Antichamber is a indie puzzle game that puts the player in an M.C. Escher-style series of test chambers.  The ultimate goal is to reach the exit, but in order to do so the player must solve various puzzles to bypass obstacles to find the resources that enables them to leave.  As you play, you’ll find the world changing & warping around you.  Indeed, one of the greatest tools at your disposal — and obstacles — is your own perception.  But along the way, you’ll also acquire a gun that will allow you to move specific blocks around to help you reach your goal.  Initially this gun only allows you to pick up & place blocks, but as you progress you’ll find upgrades that allow you to further bend the reality of the world around you.

 

At A Glance

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Narrative: Anyone familiar with my formatting for these reviews may notice I skipped a section above where I normally give a summary of the plot.  The reason for this is because… um… there isn’t really one.  Or at the very least it’s heavily open to interpretation.  Even after reaching the ending, I honestly don’t have any more idea what the story behind the game is, if there even is one.  My general feeling after playing Antichamber was similar to being in a testing chamber, & finally escaping in the end.  Though whether this was just some VR test or alien abduction, I can’t say.  But I honestly don’t feel that the game’s too bad off for not having a rigid narrative.  The stark, nonlinear feel of the “story” fits the overall atmosphere of the game very well.  It’s all very hands-off.  I think the point is to emphasize your experience with the game rather than following along some plot the developer intended.  And in the end, that experience, & wanting to see what’s next & overcome the next obstacle, is enough to drive the player through the game til the end.  Score: 3

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Developer Notes

Mechanics: One of the areas where Antichamber mechanically excels is in teaching the player its world-logic.  You learn by doing.  Very rarely does it flat-out tell you when you can do something.  The only exceptions to that being when you first get the gun upgrades it will immediately present you with a practice obstacle & how you how to use the new upgrade.  But other than that, you learn as you go.  Even falling into a “trap” is a learning experience.  And you’ll remember these skills.  It’s very gratifying to come across a room you can’t solve, only to have a Eureka moment once you’ve learned a new bit of logic later in the game that you can apply.  What may seem impassable may simply be a matter of not having the proper tool.  For example, I mentioned in my First Impression having an idea while writing the post about a solution to a later room.  In the room, there was a crate on one side of the room that would slide forward without something blocking it, raising a platform on the other side of a barricade that I needed to ride to exit the room.  The obvious solution was to stand on the platform & remove the block from a distance, allowing the crate to slide & ride up.  But the barrier prevented this.  Once I acquired the yellow gun upgrade, allowing me to set blocks to move on their own (& drag any attached blocks with it), I thought to create a “fuse”, a long chain along the crate to set the string to move while giving me enough time to run to the platform before it rose without me.  I was rather proud of myself for coming up with that.  I also found that there may be multiple ways to overcome an obstacle.  There isn’t really a right or wrong, but maybe just an easy and more convoluted way.  Yeah, I could painstakingly move all these blocks around to trip the lasers.  Or I could get the red gun upgrade & multiply the blocks to fill the entire area, reaching the same solution.  There were more than a few times I realized I was thinking too hard about the solution.  But I consider that a positive aspect of the game.  Nothing ever felt impossible.  Another much-appreciated mechanic was the ability to go back to the map room at any time & warp to any room you’ve uncovered.  It makes it very easy to see where you haven’t gone & makes navigation painless.  The only complaint I have as far as mechanics goes was with the jumping.  I mentioned it before, but the jumping felt very floaty.  And while there weren’t a lot of jumping puzzles, the ones that were there required more precision than the controls really allowed for.  That was my only real frustration with the gameplay.  Score: 5

 

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You Are Where?

Aesthetics: The level layout & design are simplistic & yet very mind-bending.  The chambers themselves are pretty stark, punctuated by very intense bursts of color.  Rooms change behind you or when you’re not looking, or sometimes when you’re looking at it just right.  Chambers bend in & around each other, surprising you when you exit one chamber only to enter a chamber you’ve previously visited & know that wasn’t how you got to before.  It all makes for a very surreal experience.  The kind that makes you stop & go, “How did I get here?”.  There’s no dialogue, but the omnipresent music has this ethereal quality that fits the atmosphere.  The sound effects are pretty interesting, as well.  Fall down a pit, & you hear the wind rushing past you.  At one point, near what I assume is the bottom of facility, I heard crickets.  However, at times  the music would become this loud, continuous ringing noise that drove me crazy, even if I wasn’t wearing headphones.  I don’t know if it was intentional or a bug, but I had to turn the sound off a few times.  Sadly, there’s no separate option for music & sound effects, so I’d have to turn both off, which created a disconnected with my actions in the game.  This was easily remedied by going back to the map room after I completed the level & turning the music back on, but it was enough of a nuisance that I felt the need to mention it.  Score: 5

Replay Value: Low to Moderate.  While I don’t feel the need to play it again, Antichamber definitely stands up to multiple attempts.  For one, I didn’t find all the chambers, & there are apparently secret rooms to discover for those who enjoy it.  Also, some people may enjoy the challenge of starting a new game & seeing how quickly they can reach the end, cutting out as many rooms as possible.  Score: 3

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: Antichamber is a unique & engaging experience is mind-bending level design & puzzle solving.

Recommended for: fans of puzzle games, those who want to be challenged or are interested in unique level design

Not recommended for: gamers without patience

-GamerDame

Title: Antichamber
Consoles: PC
Rating: E
Developer: Alexander Bruce
Publisher: Demruth
Release Date: January 31, 2013

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Filed under 4, Indie, PC, Puzzle, Reviews, Uncategorized