The 2D platformer. If you were a child aged between 7-12 years-old in the 90’s who found yourself indoors more so than outside socialising, then there’s a good chance you got pretty familiar with this gaming format.
From your Alex the kids to the Sonic the hedgehogs, and of coarse the super Marios’s. The biggest struggles you faced were comparing with like-minded friends, how you conquered a boss or got to the next level with only the ability to run left, right or jump. Hours of fun shouting, screaming and sometimes throwing -looking back now – a rather flimsy controller on the floor.
Fast forward a couple of decades and we’ve seen the technological rise of games consoles from one to the next, bringing us to the modern day console which has shown us the likes of Call of Duty, Assassins Creed and Metal Gear Solid to name a few.
All of which span across huge universes, in the on and offline communities of the gaming world. Players can connect instantly to discuss strategies, work with or against each other in full 1080p.
Titles such as Bungie’s Destiny, almost demand you to connect with people on the other side of the world to achieve your goals whether you want to or not, as it is strictly an online challenge based game, no real benefit for riding solo.
Is this subconsciously training you to knock down social barriers? Is it a good thing? This could be a long discussion, but you can’t deny the gaming world has come a long way.
Meanwhile in Copenhagen, there is a small group of independent game developers under the monicker Playdead.
In 2010 they released their debut indie game LIMBO which you can only download through the games store on your console or PC for a small fee.
No physical release. I went on a limb and downloaded this as some friends had recommended it to me, to my surprise it looked a hell of a lot like some of those 2D platform games of old. Only this turned out to be a completely different beast altogether.
Beautiful, haunting, grotesque – sometimes all three at once, LIMBO was one of the darkest games I’ve ever played. Sales of the game skyrocketed and got a lot of critical acclaim. This game was a brave opener for Playdead, and it payed off.
June 2016, at E3 in Los Angeles, out of nowhere, Playdead announce their next game will be available to download in the next week or so. They show a trailer, jaws hit floor.
Much like its predecessor, Inside’s art direction is basic, yet incredibly slick and detailed as you move from puzzle to puzzle in order to make your way through the game.
Said puzzles are tough yet rewarding, terrifying yet relieving, inspiring yet depressing, all achieved through three simple controls.
From the get-go your character appears to be running from someone or something as you gradually unravel parts of the story, what you are or why you’re doing it.
The intensity of some of the moments of this game spur you on to carry on playing it as you find other characters, secret rooms, deadly situations, as you try to make sense of this bizarre game.
The games director, Arnt Jenson’s inspirations for the game aren’t necessarily clear here – although some moments reeked of manga’s AKIRA, not a bad thing whatsoever – nor is the overall narrative made obvious.
This is defiantly intentional, as there is already a whole community of gamers, YouTubers and bloggers offering their take on the story.
It’s up to the player to make what they will of the lore, but with no doubt at all, there are some environmental sub texts here. Some crushing moments in the game make you question what goes on in society today – I remind you once again you can run, jump and grab in a 2D world – in this altogether bleak platform game.
One of the things that struck me most about Inside, was the musical composition. Mostly ambient, unnerving soundscapes, composer
Martin Stig Andersen has rather geniusly soundtracked the game, not only matching every mood perfectly, but somehow weaving the sound effects of the game into the score to trigger another animation of the game, or if you die – which will happen a lot – to somehow still make a complete and genuine sounding track.
An example – warning spoiler alert – is when you are out in an open space in a foggy, dimly lit outdoor area with a thunderous sonic boom reoccurring every couple of seconds. With minimal cover, you have to time yourself perfectly with the sparse cover and the sonic booms or else you are blown to smithereens rather horribly. The booms, the environment, and your inevitable death seem to score the scenario. Yeah, I know.
Honestly, by the time I had finished the game I was speechless. The beautiful graphics, the soundtrack, the story and the tasks left me wanting answers with my head in my hands.
How Playdead took such an innocent concept and idea to make it into this mind bending tale is quite an achievement.
Playdead, you made a masterpiece.
Words By Adam Birkbeck