PLOT A boy is being chased in the woods.
RATED M for Mature
DETAILS PC, Xbox One; $19.99
BOTTOM LINE Let’s cut to the chase: Inside is an outright sensation.
Inside, the stunning new puzzle game from Danish studio Playdead, begins with a boy running through a wooded area. He is being chased by men who mean him mortal harm and hounded by dogs who will maul him if given the chance. The somber color palette, the many long shadows — these cinematographic elements are as assured as the art direction is timeless. Particularly arresting is the way the camera tracks the boy as he moves, hovering in close at times but often alternating between medium and long shots. The game’s abstract visuals — the boy is blank-faced, the world is sharply stylized — suggest the artists were able to achieve their full vision. This is an advantage over a number of games that strive toward realism and whose visuals tend to date faster once something more photorealistic comes along.
The game grows stranger and more varied around the time you meet the brainwashed people. Under certain circumstances the boy can take control of some of the pitiable people around him. This makes for a terrifically surreal counterpoint to Inside’s probing of the fear of being chased. The character animation is superb, composed yet gracefully fluid.
For a game where not a single word is uttered, Inside communicates a pervasive sense of dread without ever resorting to cheap scares. It’s a mood piece, a series of expertly framed environments that escalate in their strangeness. The game allows space for the player to wonder about what’s going on even as it generates a sense of continuous discovery.
Inside’s final sequence is especially riveting. It has the sort of reversal in fortune that you’d expect to find in a Lars von Trier film. The game is a procession of stately, grim exclamation marks. It is visionary art.