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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

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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: Scribblenauts Unlimited

Continuing my goal for a bit of stress-free gaming, I’ve been sticking with more casual games by completing Scribblenauts Unlimited this week.  This was my first experience with one of the Scribblenauts games.  But I do enjoy the odd puzzle game to break up the more serious gaming.  So did Scribblenauts Unlimited help stimulate my brain?

There are some significant feature differences between the console versions.  The version I’m reviewing is on the PC so I can’t speak for the 3DS or Wii U features.

What is that hat supposed to be?

What is that hat supposed to be?

In Scribblenauts Unlimited, you play as Maxwell, a boy with a magic notebook that can bring any word he writes in it into reality.  One day, while traveling with his sister Lily, the two come across an old man who asks them for something to eat.  Being the mischievous boy that he is, Maxwell writes up a rotten apple for him.  In retaliation, the old man curses Lily, causing her body to slowly turn into stone.  The only thing that may cure her is for Maxwell to collect Starites, which can only be gained by helping people.

Princely Imposter

Princely Imposter

Scribblenauts Unlimited is more or less a pure puzzle game.  To collect Starites, Maxwell has to help out the people he comes across.  Most people will present with a vague suggestion of what they want & it’s up to you to think of an item.  You simply type something in the notebook & it’s there.  The items you can create range all the way from household items to Lovecraftian monstrosities.  You’ll also come across quests that involve solving a series of puzzles in order to get a Starite.

Narrative: For the most part, the story in the game is just a bare-bones backdrop to wandering through the various levels.  It does provide an adequate motivation for Maxwell’s journey, but doesn’t play a much larger role than that.  The end message of the game is what you’d see in your typical Saturday cartoon show: do unto others as you want done unto you.  Which I suppose is an admirable message, but it feels a bit inconsistent when you’ll probably spend most of the game tormenting the people you meet after you’ve gotten their Starites.  Most of what’s going on in each level is unrelated to the other levels… or even anything else in the level.  The individual quests are pretty unique & varied, though.  One time you’re creating your own monster in a science class, the next you’re tracking down Santa’s murder.  So overall, not bad but forgettable.  Score: 3

Posh Cthulhu is always the right answer

Posh Cthulhu is always the right answer

Mechanics: I have to say, I was impressed with the sheer amount of things you can create in this game.  The only real limitation is simply knowing the word.  Not only can you create objects, but you can also add adjectives to just about anything & anyone in the game to various effects.  Of course the game doesn’t allow for vulgarities & the like.  I do wish, however, that there was a better search option.  There was many times I couldn’t think of the word I needed to solve the puzzle.  That in itself isn’t the fault of the game, but you can’t really search for words.  The game will suggest words that match what it thinks you said, but it’s not always helpful.  For example, I was trying to come up with the word vuvuzela (those obnoxious plastic horns that were popular at one time at sporting events) but couldn’t for the life of me come up with it.  The game could do with a categorized search function.  But another good feature is the freedom the game allows at solving its puzzles.  It has a very loose understanding of what constitutes a correct answer.  For instance, one puzzle said to give a sculptor inspiration.  The correct answer (according to a guide) was “mannequin” but the game was more than happy to accept my “dancing fish.”  Another example was to help an orca keep justice in the sea.  A boring correct answer would be the add the adjective “righteous” to it, but I think my solution of having a cop ride the orca was a thousand times cooler.  That being said, the game doesn’t really encourage these creative answers.  A lot of solutions gets repeated, like adding the adjective “sleepy” when you have to get past someone without killing them or “magnifying glass” when someone’s looking for something.  So overall, it has impressive freedom but doesn’t really encourage it.  Score: 4

There's also an object editor feature

There’s also an object editor feature

Aesthetics: The art design is bright, cheerful & simplistic.  Everything in the game has this disjointed look, almost like they’re all marionettes.  But it fits the tone of the game.  The levels have a nice variety.  Each section of the game has its own theme to the levels, such as a city or snowy mountain.  I think my favorite levels were the haunted house & underwater city.  The music is surprisingly good on some levels.  There were a few times I stopped just to listen.  And as I mentioned before, there’s no dialogue, just Sim-speak.  But it’s always amusing to hear the people scream in fear when you do something naughty.  The only voiceacting comes from Lily narrating the prologue & epilogue.  This is done by Jennifer Hale, which always gets a bonus point in my book.  Score: 4

Replay Value: Low.  Technically you can beat the story before you’ve even visited all of the levels.  You only need 60 starites to free Lily & there’s 106 in the game.  You can reset all of the levels if you want to create more havoc, but you can only replay the quests.  I’d say this is a one-&-done kind of game.  Score: 2

Breakdown

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Overall Score: 3

Final Word: Scribblenauts Unlimited has an impressive word library & some interesting puzzles to solve, but don’t encourage creativity as much as it could.  However, if you’re looking for a child or family-friendly game, you can do worse.

– GamerDame

Title: Scribblenauts Unlimited
Console: PC, Wii U & 3DS
Rating: E 10+
Developer: 5th Cell
Publishers: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Nintendo
Release Date: November 19, 2012

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Filed under 3, 3DS, PC, Puzzle, Reviews, Wii U