Death by drowning is just one of the many unfortunate fates your young protagonist will meet during Inside, spiritual successor to developer Playdead's critically-acclaimed Limbo. A lad graphically succumbing to a watery grave isn't accompanied by a depleting oxygen bar, though, nor is his brutal mauling by a pack of rabid hunting dogs measured by a pulsing health meter.
Nothing in the game is, in fact, monitored or explained via the sort of on-screen prompts, text, or tips we've come to expect. Thanks to expert level design and clever audio and visual cues, the primarily black-and-white puzzle-platformer is able to communicate to the player without ever pulling them from one of the most immersive, atmospheric adventures in recent memory.
Even more impressive, this organic approach extends to the game's puzzles as well. Forgoing the frustration and tedium that often goes hand-in-hand with the genre's head-scratchers, Inside's riddles feel more like natural extensions of the narrative and its supporting action. The game rarely has you solving a brain-teaser in the traditional trial-and-error sense, but rather sees you making daring escapes and thrilling discoveries.
We hesitate to even categorize it as a puzzle game, as you certainly won't feel like you're cracking some arbitrary conundrum when you break the protagonist's fall on a pile of rotting pig corpses or outsmart a deadly sea nymph. Inside is sinister, unsettling, and haunting, veering closer to horror than a traditional puzzler. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, let's just say its central mystery will lead you through some of the creepiest locales and disturbing encounters of the year thus far.
Inside's brimming with beautiful art direction and brilliant gameplay, but there's much more than a sparse color palette and polished mechanics at play. From its eye-catching use of light, shadows, and physics to its nightmare-conjuring contraptions and faceless, yet highly emotive, hero, every subtle detail and defining feature shines. With each forward step accompanied by equal parts anticipation and dread and an unnerving tale that will stick with you long after the credits roll, Inside is an easy recommendation – even if you don't consider yourself a puzzle fan.