Play­dead has fi­nally fin­ished its sec­ond game. So have we


Xbox One

It would be a dis­tinctly un­gen­er­ous as­sess­ment to say that Play­dead has spent the past five years re­mak­ing Limbo. Nev­er­the­less, as a gloomy side-scrolling ad­ven­ture with a young male lead and a sur­feit of puz­zles that in­volve drag­ging boxes around and clam­ber­ing on top of them, In­side does in­vite such com­par­isons.

What’s clear from In­side’s open­ing mo­ments is that we’ve once again been cast into a des­o­late, faintly dream­like world. This murk­ily monochro­matic, rain-sod­den dystopia quickly es­tab­lishes a mood of hope­less­ness, but it’s a more ex­pan­sive place than its pre­de­ces­sor, its bar­ren en­vi­ron­ments stretch­ing into the dis­tance. You’re fixed to a sin­gle plane, but you still need to be wary of the back­ground, as dart­ing torch­lights swing your way, forc­ing you to cower be­hind a rock. Soon, you’re no longer hid­ing but break­ing into a sprint that, as in that fa­mil­iar night­mare sce­nario, never feels quite fast enough. It is if your tim­ing’s good – just – but the win­dows are as nar­row as in Limbo.

Play­dead’s de­but had its share of close calls, but here they’re part of a dif­fer­ent tempo: this is a pacier, more en­er­getic open­ing, with pur­suits dove­tail­ing with fid­gety stealth, as you edge be­neath over­head beams, their shad­ows keep­ing you hid­den from the harsh glare of gi­ant spot­lights slowly shift­ing right to left and back again. Where be­fore you took ten­ta­tive steps, care­ful not to spring another trap, here you’re en­gaged in a stac­cato rhythm: stop, then sprint. In

Limbo, you jumped at shad­ows. Here, you come to fear bright lights and open ground.

And, to a much lesser ex­tent, those damned boxes. In­side does find new twists on the kind of physics-pow­ered co­nun­drums we saw in Limbo, but there are times when you’ll trudge across stretches of ground, drag­ging a crate to cre­ate a stair­way to a higher plat­form. You’ll pull levers and de­press switches, climb chains and swing on ropes. In­side’s best puz­zles are so much smarter, more elab­o­rate, more con­sid­ered, that it’s dis­ap­point­ing when it re­verts to dull con­ven­tion.

In fair­ness, as with the gen­tle plat­form­ing se­quences, Play­dead is less in­ter­ested in chal­leng­ing you than deep­en­ing your con­nec­tion with the world. Per­haps only Naughty Dog and Nin­tendo EAD are ca­pa­ble of evok­ing such a strong sense of phys­i­cal­ity. Your name­less avatar is no Nathan Drake – the odd grunt, gasp and pant aside, he’s as word­less as the rest of the game – but the ex­pres­sive an­i­ma­tion and ex­em­plary sound de­sign com­bine to make his or­deal feel real.

Play­dead does peril re­mark­ably well. Its trick is not to pun­ish you for dy­ing – a restart rarely sets you back more than 30 sec­onds from where you fell – but to make death so hor­ri­ble that you’ll do any­thing you can to avoid it. Even in stylised form, the vi­o­lence will make you wince: a mist­imed sprint for cover sees a coiled wire lash out with a noisy snap, strik­ing the boy as if fired from a gi­ant Taser. The bru­tal sud­den­ness of it is shock­ing, though there’s worse to come: af­ter years on top, Res­i­dent Evil might fi­nally have a chal­lenger for the medium’s most vi­cious dogs, whose un­set­tlingly pierc­ing bark has noth­ing on their bite. And they’re not even the most fright­en­ing threat you’ll face.

It’s a world that bris­tles with men­ace even in its qui­eter mo­ments. There may be no press­ing dan­ger, but dis­tant rum­bles and groans let you know there are much more pow­er­ful forces in play. For the most part,

In­side is happy to let its en­vi­ron­ments do the talk­ing. But at key mo­ments, mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment will drift in al­most im­per­cep­ti­bly, fad­ing up from the white noise un­til it can’t be ig­nored, and es­tab­lish­ing a mood that’s al­most sti­flingly po­tent.

Just as you’re won­der­ing whether any of the ques­tions the nar­ra­tive raises are go­ing to be an­swered, In­side takes a hard left turn, con­clud­ing its four-hour story with an as­ton­ish­ing ex­tended set-piece that left us gasp­ing. For all its qual­i­ties, In­side’s first three hours don’t quite have the shock of the new that Limbo did, but this? This is some­thing thrillingly un­ex­pected. Sud­denly, the past half-decade looks like time very well spent.

Its trick is to make death so hor­ri­ble that you’ll do any­thing you can to avoid it

De­vel­oper Pub­lisher For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease Play­dead Mi­crosoft Stu­dios Xbox One Den­mark June 29

You’ll need some as­sis­tance to solve the trick­i­est tasks In­side has to of­fer – but not all hands are equally help­ful

The con­trols aren’t ex­plained at any stage in the game, though you’ll soon learn that A is used to jump and B to grab onto ob­jects. Some need more ef­fort be­fore they’ll start mov­ing. The feel­ing of re­sis­tance is ex­pertly com­mu­ni­cated

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.