Playdead's INSIDE review: There is beauty in death

Playdead's follow-up to Limbo, INSIDE, was a big hit on gaming consoles last year. It's similar enough to its predecessor to win the hearts of Limbo fans, but also different enough to give you a brand new experience. It's filled with dozens of trigger-action puzzles to keep you on your toes and has an even more bizarrely dark storyline than Limbo.

I spent the weekend playing through much of the game and have some thoughts.

Note: INSIDE is only compatible with devices with 2GB of RAM, which include iPhone 6s or newer and iPad Air 2 and newer, as well as Apple TV 4th-generation and newer.

The story, the setting, and the dark minds of the game developers

Of course, I don't want to give anything away about INSIDE, so I'm not going to go into details about the storyline, but it's one of the most important parts of the game, so I have to talk about it a little.

You are controlling a boy on the run. As soon as you slide into the forest, you're off. You'll quickly confront your first puzzles, though they are very simple. Should you wait until the men with flashlights pass or make a run for it and hope you don't get caught. Sometimes, patience is your savior, other times, waiting will get you eaten by dogs.

You'll help the young boy go from the forest to a farm, through a city, and eventually through a dozen different locations, but each transition is seamless. You don't really even know you've run into a different area until you're already there.

The boy will be able to control some mindless beings by connecting to some sort of connected helmet. When he wears it, the zombie-like people will perform the actions he does. Sometimes, though, the boy has to pretend to be one of the mindless beings. What does it all mean?

If the boy gets caught, he will die. Chances are, you'll see quite a few death scenes in your game. The two or three-second death scenes are disturbingly realistic, but oddly beautiful because of how they fit within the grim, dark world.

Similar to Limbo, the landscape of INSIDE is very dark. Most of the background is shadowed by night and shrouded in mist. Unlike Limbo, the boy is not a shadowy figure himself. Instead, he is the most colorful character in the game, sporting a red striped shirt.

The game's ending is something that I won't discuss. I will, however, [spoiler alert!] tell you that there is an alternate ending that is only accessible if you've found and broken all of the secret orbs throughout the game (which are sometimes very difficult to find).

How the gameplay translates to iOS

I honestly hate the way the game plays on iOS. It's not a deal-breaker, but some of the game mechanics are really confusing. In order to interact with an object, you have to press and hold while near it. It's totally counter-intuitive to a button style gameplay. I understand that it would make the game ugly to have A/B buttons on the screen, but I really struggled at first, and even after I got used to the controls, I'd get stuck trying to perform some actions, like exiting the submarine or jumping to a rope.

It's not going to make you stop playing. It's just a bit awkward at first. I'd love to see a better implementation of the game mechanics on iOS that is more intuitive. Maybe the right side of the screen could move the boy while the left side of the screen is for interactions.

As for the visuals, it's a little dark on iPhone. I even turned up the brightness on my screen to see if it would help. Again, it's not a deal-breaker, but the right side of the screen is sometimes so dark that I can't tell whether there is something to interact with on the screen. On iPad, it's a completely different story. It looks great. And, if you've got an Apple TV, I highly recommend this to be your main device to play. It looks fantastic on the big screen.

That beautifully eerie soundtrack

The same artist that composed the soundtrack for Limbo, Martin Stig Anderson, is back to help turn the INSIDE soundtrack into something even darker. It's co-composed with electronic sound artist SØS Gunver Ryberg. It's been said (by Anderson himself) that some of the score and sound effects were recorded through a human skull and the stomach of a professional sword swallower. I'm being serious.

Weird recording tactics aside, the soundtrack is reminiscent of Synthwave horror films, but it doesn't ape that sound at all. It's unique and interesting and makes your skin crawl while also relaxing your mind. I can't wait until the soundtrack is officially released. I'd buy it on vinyl in a heartbeat.

Is it worth $6.99?

The short answer is, unquestionably.

The slightly longer, but still the same answer, is that it's a bit on the short side. If you've got a knack for solving puzzles, it will only take a few hours to get through the entire game. The good news is that it is replayable. The secondary goal is to find all of the secret orbs, which [spoiler alert!] unlocks an alternate ending.

If you've already played the game on one of the various consoles that INSIDE is available on, you're not getting anything new with the iOS version, but if you love it, you'll replay it anyway because it's that good.

I highly recommend INSIDE to all fans of Limbo, as well as any fan of platform puzzlers in general.

You can download and play the first location for free. The full-game unlock will cost you $6.99. Give it a try. I'm pretty sure you'll spend the seven bucks once you've played the first chapter. You'll be hooked.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).