In­side

EDGE - - GAMES -

It does hold up on a sec­ond play, then. In­side’s mes­meric cli­max is such a fear­less shift – where es­cap­ing sud­denly means break­ing out rather than get­ting away – that it’s easy to for­get that much of what pre­cedes it dis­plays a sim­i­lar de­gree of con­fi­dence and craft. In many re­spects Playdead hasn’t strayed far from its pre­vi­ous game’s suc­cess­ful blend of side-scrolling ex­plo­ration with physics puz­zles and light plat­form­ing, but this is much more than Limbo 2.0.

There is a poise here that Limbo of­ten pos­sessed but oc­ca­sion­ally lost in its de­sire to pro­voke and chal­lenge. Its traps be­trayed a cer­tain cal­low­ness; its puz­zles could be finicky and overly de­mand­ing. In­side may re­quire thought, care and oc­ca­sion­ally a sharp sense of tim­ing to progress, but its ob­sta­cles never feel un­fair.

Its world has a sim­i­larly dis­qui­et­ing tenor, but if any­thing it’s even more darkly en­velop­ing. Af­ter sev­eral min­utes of low-level noise that never gets louder than the throaty rum­ble of a truck’s en­gine in the mid­dle dis­tance and the gen­tle crunch of leaves un­der­foot, the first time its young lead is spot­ted is heart-stop­ping. A bark pierces the si­lence like a gun­shot, as the gap be­tween hunter and hunted nar­rows and you re­alise you’re wad­ing through wa­ter and can’t move any faster. It all feels fright­en­ingly real, am­pli­fied by the boy’s con­vinc­ing reactions in every sit­u­a­tion; he’ll hun­ker down be­hind rocks, wind­mill his arms, and duck his head. This is all au­to­mated – there’s no crouch or run but­ton – and yet you still feel re­spon­si­ble.

That in turn makes each death hit all the harder. These could so eas­ily feel crassly ex­ploita­tive, par­tic­u­larly given the pro­tag­o­nist’s youth, but Playdead doesn’t linger. Each demise is ap­pro­pri­ately re­pul­sive, and shock­ing be­cause it is so sud­den and vi­o­lent; enough, per­haps, to make you re­coil. It may have no last­ing im­pact, but it en­forces a care­ful ap­proach, if only be­cause you don’t want to have to see the boy’s light ex­tin­guished so bru­tally again.

Every el­e­ment here feels as if it has been pored over ob­ses­sively, each in­di­vid­ual moving part nudged care­fully into place so that the whole can tick with metro­nomic pre­ci­sion. You alone are the anom­aly, and at times it feels as if that’s why you’re be­ing chased. Against a back­drop of adult au­toma­tons who shuf­fle along with zom­bie-like mind­less­ness, this coura­geous young­ster rep­re­sents a rare flash of colour, en­ergy, even hu­man­ity: a po­ten­tial cat­a­lyst for change in a world of hor­ror, death and grim obe­di­ence. In­side, too, stands apart. It’s an au­da­cious, sin­gu­lar vi­sion that de­liv­ers a mes­sage to the many pre­tenders that fol­lowed in Limbo’s wake: this is how it’s done.

There are sev­eral op­tional puz­zles, each net­ting you an Achieve­ment. Some are ex­tremely well-hid­den: af­ter a sec­ond playthrough spent pok­ing at every sus­pi­cious-look­ing piece of scenery, we’re still miss­ing one or two

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