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Why Playdead's Inside is massively overhyped



OPINION Games Editor Brett Phipps explains why he feels the love for indie game Inside is a little over the top

Note: This article contains spoilers

Anyone with even a passing interest in games will have noticed the positive reviews for the indie game Inside in recent days. Indeed, our very own Stuart Andrews loved the game so much he gave it a 10/10 and called it a "must play game for everyone".

Playdead’s follow-up to Limbo stays true to the formula laid down by its predecessor and delivers something that, according to Metacritic, is a generation-defining experience.

But, having just finished the game myself, I'm struggling to understand why. Is it a good game? Sure. Is it great? Not for me.

Related: Inside review

A couple of things first. This piece will be pretty spoiler heavy, so I recommend you either finish Inside or care not one bit about the game before reading. Secondly, this is not a criticism of anyone else’s opinion of Inside. Lord knows there are enough people shouting at each other in this world; this is simply me expressing my disappointment after being presented with such hype.


Inside kicks off as Limbo 2, with a boy running through a forest from something – you never find out exactly what, but I presume that's part of its charm and mystique – and you're required to learn as you go, with no hints whatsoever.

The great thing Playdead does is convey what the player needs to do without specifically telling them – an art lost in modern gaming due to an obsessive need to tutorialise everything. For example, you'll learn every mechanic and button required in Inside’s beautifully simplistic control system within around 10 minutes. A high ledge, a suspiciously placed box near an even taller obstacle, objects to cower behind while guards search by torchlight… All wonderfully intuitive.

But then, you'll come across the game’s first unavoidable death, and this is where Inside loses something.

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There'll be plenty of times throughout your journey where you have to die in order to learn how to not die and to progress. This trial-and-error approach is the bread and butter of Inside. You could avoid some of the deaths at your first attempt, but that's not how it's designed, and that's poor.


Plenty of mud gets slung at the likes of Dark Souls for its supposed trial-and-error frustrations – which in most cases is more just ‘git gud innit?’ – so the same brush must tar Inside, even if the issue isn’t as ever-present as it was in Limbo.

Because of the use of this tactic for key chase scenes, most lose suspense. I should be on the edge of my seat, frantically trying to reach the fence to flee from the frothing guard dogs. Instead, I'm waiting for them to catch me, semi-defeated before the chase has even begun. Rather than looking toward the light at the end of the tunnel, I'm looking in every nook and cranny for a hidden spot that I'll need to head for on the second or third run.

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The next issue comes in the form of puzzles: while making great use of the beautiful environments, they don't require much thinking. None of the puzzles will leave you scratching your head, meaning Inside becomes more of a walking simulator with some stops for air instead of an adventure game. Yes, the puzzles are environmental, but this isn't exactly ground breaking stuff.

My last issue regards the game’s narrative – specifically, its lack of depth and exploration of the themes and characters presented.


Inside dares to introduce thought-provoking topics throughout, and with them titillating questions. A group of zombified blue collar workers can be controlled with the use of a weird cranial contraption. A deadly sea creature, after spending most of the second act trying to kill you, drags you to the bottom of the sea, implanting a contraption in your chest in the third act to control the workers all the time. (I still have absolutely no idea why the boy can suddenly breathe underwater, by the way.) With each new interaction, I became more invested in their story.

Except none of these questions are answered by the time the credits roll, with the story held together by flimsy symbolism as a means of narrative progression.

It's quite clear you're in some sort of immoral testing facility, with each chapter representing a different experiment, each new level a more grotesque and unnerving manipulation of mankind. However, that's it, that's all we get. We never find out who the underwater girl from The Ring is. Never do we discover the shady corporation running this operation, or what the hell that sound blaster section was in the middle of the game. None of it.

The worst part? The game culminates with the little boy being absorbed by a giant, fleshy Katamari, which proceeds to run wild through the facility, collapsing in a heap outside on the shoreline and bringing the game to its abrupt end. I know this is supposed to be a big moment, but I chuckled at the thought of this turning into a Katamari sim.

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Many may find deeper meanings in every inch of Inside. Some may see this as a great story left to the player to pick apart and deduce for themselves, but that's a flimsy excuse – the equivalent of buying a book that comes with a pen and half the pages blank.

Gaming, as a medium, isn't very good at telling stories. Yes, there are some good ones – BioShock and The Last of Us are often cited – but compared to films and books, games are often constrained by the need to be played. As such the narrative can get lost between prolonged sessions of agency, throwing off the pacing. Even the ones you're thinking of right now as landmark stories (and that means you, Final Fantasy VII fans) have probably just one or two great moments in a mediocre plot.

Inside just doesn't seem to explore any of the themes it sets out: morality in human experimentation, tyrannical regimes, fear and loneliness. The credits began and I was genuinely shocked I’d reached the end. It felt overly smug, despite having achieved little in the three hours it took to finish.


Inside suffers, I think, from a desire from the outside for it to be good. I’d genuinely be curious to know what would happen if a big, triple-A developer presented a title like this – how it'd be received. Unravel immediately jumps to mind, published by EA. With a Metacritic of 78 it was still warmly received, but not considered genre-defining, let alone one of the best of its generation.

This is not to throw shade on those who’ve loved the game, most certainly. I can absolutely see why they love it, but I can also see flaws with Inside for which other games get pelted. At times I feel the “indie darling” phenomenon does ring true.

Is Inside a bad game? Absolutely not; it's a worthy follow-up to Limbo that takes everything that game did and varies it a bit, even if it doesn't necessarily do it better. But it doesn't do anything new or refreshing enough to be considered in any way exceptional.

David Hale

July 1, 2016, 5:59 pm

That was a very good article, it was nice to see an opinion piece come across as so well considered. I haven't played the game, but having read both your article and the full review I think I want to play it more to see who I agree with.

I think you are right though, the "indie darling" is very much a thing and sometimes feels a bit emperor's new clothes to me.

Stuart Andrews

July 1, 2016, 9:59 pm

I think it's really fascinating that Brett's response and my response are so different. To be clear, I didn't come to Inside with any great expectations. I liked Limbo but it's not a huge favourite of mine, and while there are some indie games I've loved, I've never been one to push 'indie darlings' or bash mainstream games just because they're mainstream. I found Inside a really powerful, visceral experience from start to finish, and for me the ambiguities of the narrative aren't a weakness. I like the ways in which you can interpret what's going on, and that it doesn't feel the need to spell things out or tie things up. I respect that it doesn't work for Brett and his reasons why, but I finished the game in two roughly two hour sessions and came away wanting to shout about it from the rooftops. I think it's a phenomenal piece of work.

It just goes to show, though, that we are talking about something that's fundamentally an emotional experience. Some people will experience it in the same way I did and some might not. I'm not sure that makes it overhyped. Reading other reviews from people I know and expect, I suspect many other critics simply played it and felt the same way I did. I'm sure others will share Brett's opinions - and that's fine too.


July 1, 2016, 11:06 pm

I saw reviw scores for this by Jim Sterling (10/10) and 9/10 by another Brett on Destructoid. As someone who did not like Limbo as much as..it seems the most reviewers I guess that Inside might indeed be as overhyped as Limbo in my opinion.

Great Atmosphere is not everything.


July 2, 2016, 12:24 am

1. Complaining about the trial and error death style is ridiculous. It's a limbo sequel, of course they'll be a lot of death. Not to mention the fact that Limbo was much less forgiving than Inside.
2. The chase scenes were perfectly fine in my opinion. In fact, watching the little boy get mauled by dogs made me want to never get caught, adding tons of suspense and intensity. Searching every nook and cranny for secrets is a bad thing to you? Lol k.
3. The puzzles definitely are easier, but it doesn't take anything away from the game. It should actually be more enjoyable to you for that reason, considering you're complaining about trial and error. Not once did I think Inside was a "walking simulator", probably because every environment was so unique and mysterious. Limbo gave off a dark eerie vibe, where as this game feels more adventurous yet corrupted. The characters and environments were never meant to be explained, it's meant to be taken in by the player, what you think of the world.
4. The story is purposefully vague and empty. It gives a basic plot, and let's you tell your own story of what happened. For example, the boy being able to breathe indefinitely underwater. Explain what you believe happened, not "oh I don't know". Comparing the ending to Katamri is probably the dumbest thing I've ever heard. In trying to save the mind controlled people, the boy himself becomes trapped inside the entity. As a leader(like how he leads chicks, fish, people) he leads the monstrosity away from the evil corporation. I won't bother going further as I can tell you didn't even get the secret ending, so all I can say is YOUR interpretation of what happens is what matters. The ending isn't a basic "oh let's sum everything up because are players are to stupid to figure it out themselves", YOU have to decide what happened. You can call it a lazy excuse, I call it actual story telling. I want a game that makes me think, not a book that paints every piece of information in vivid detail. That's what makes gaming such a unique story telling experience, More so than any other form of entertainment, it can be done in so many ways.
Inside is a breathe of fresh air. It's not a basic fps shooter, sandbox rpg, or all the other generic crap gamers have been drowned in. It's an extraordinary adventure game, with its own unique gameplay, soundtrack, environments, and story/storytelling. In an age of recycled garbage, both Limbo and Inside are something completely different than what's expected. If that's not genre defining, then I don't know what is.

Sandy Wich

July 2, 2016, 3:12 am

Sick stab at FF7 man, one of the greatest video games ever made and all! Was a totally mediocre plot, I couldn't agree more.



July 2, 2016, 9:36 am

Having playdead INSIDE last night, I have to totally disagree with this "review". It's amazing. It's one of the best exploration adventures that I've played in years. Feels like you're just trying to be contrary to the overwhelmingly positive reviews just for the sake of standing out. I don't think it's hype, it's simply a great game.


July 2, 2016, 9:37 am

It's not just about the atmosphere. It's a very interesting, unique puzzle exploration game.


July 2, 2016, 11:53 am

Indeed indeed, but the atmosphere is the biggest feature of it..I think.

What I totally disliked was how few..different solutions you have for the puzzles. It is like you have to guess the solution by the puzzle developer instead of being able to be creative to find a way to fight that big spider at the start ..the game gives you almost no choices how to play it and thats poor gameplay in my view.


July 2, 2016, 5:43 pm

That's the thing with opinions, different people have different ones and they are equally as valid. A recent example of a game that I can't understand the overwhelming critical praise for is Uncharted 4. Mediocre shooting and underwhelming platforming shouldn't warrant 10's just because the game is wrapped in extremely pretty imho. It appears most reviewers thought otherwise

Barry Harden

July 2, 2016, 7:11 pm

LOL as I remember most Xbone owners that shunned these indie game in favor of Triple A titles. I'll be surprised if this game actually sells well on that platform.

Ryo Shenmue

July 2, 2016, 7:52 pm

You're simply an idiot. Inside is a masterpiece, a TRUE masterpiece and Playdead is one of the 5 best development teams in the world. Anyone who thinks a game this perfect is "overhyped" is an idiot, plain and simple. Playdead proves that there are still people making TRUE videogames, so much so that their games are practically gaming school born to educate people like you and stripping them of their ignorance. What a magnificent videogame, what a beautiful experience. Truly phenomenal. TOP 4 games of the year, one of the best games of the generation.

Ryo Shenmue

July 2, 2016, 7:53 pm

You're an idiot too.

Ryo Shenmue

July 2, 2016, 7:53 pm


Varon Bon Hedgehog

July 2, 2016, 8:43 pm

This is THE MOST clickbait article I've ever seen man. Just go back to playing Overwatch if you can't apreciate good world building and actual talent going into a game.


July 2, 2016, 10:31 pm

Honestly some of his reservations about the game do ring true. I just finished the game a few hours ago and its still with me, making me wonder just exactly what I saw. Is it very creepy and disquieting and downright chilling, yes! After enduring it all, I walked away emotionally wrung out and I guess satisfied but by the same token its true that you really aren't even given a crumb with regards to explanation or exposition. Would I like it all spelled out for me, no. On the other hand I don't want just a bunch of (VERY) creepy set pieces to be just that without any sort narrative for you to process either.

Chris Berg

July 3, 2016, 1:51 am

I disagree with most of this article, but appreciate somebody breaking down their complaints. I think the main issue people will have with Inside is that the game has no intention to answer any of the questions it puts forth. That's simply not the point. It's a nonverbal narrative, told through atmosphere. Would Inside really be better if you stumbled along some voice recordings that bluntly explained the creatures? Or is it better to leave some things unexplained, and leave it up for interpretation?
Additionally, I have to disagree entirely about the game having cheap, instant deaths. While the act of memorizing boobytrap locations was an irritating part of Limbo, Inside largely avoid this (aside from perhaps three instances where death might come as you attempt to solve a puzzle). The ways to avoid death always felt natural to the environment, and I was able to pick up on them in my first runthrough.
Same goes for the puzzles. They're simple, but still clever and satisfying to solve. A few of the timing-based challenges are annoying (specifically the section with the blast waves), but nothing worth knocking the game over.
Overall, the point of Inside is to be a visual experience, with a focus on atmosphere. That's where it excels, and where it earns the hype.


July 3, 2016, 3:35 am

cry much brett?


July 3, 2016, 3:54 pm

Gotta disagree. This game has the same kind of "non-spelled-out-entirely" story that Shadow of the Colossus had. I agree that I want to know more about this world I'm playing in, but we do get more answers than you probably realize.

1. We know that there are crazy experiments happening to humans that other humans seem to be in charge of. Could there be other beings in charge (like aliens or something)? Sure. But we don't really need to know why all these experiments are happening, just that they are.

2. I don't know why the Ring girl exists, but it's enough for me that she does. And since she exists, and is somehow able to make the Boy like her (no needing air) then she must have been human before as well.

3. We see that the Boy at first needs one of those helmets to control the Dummies, but after one blows up on his head (after the 20 Dummy puzzle) he doesn't. It's obvious this somehow affected him to always have this ability.

4. We see the Mass is hooked up to several of those mind helmets when the Boy reaches it. It's safe to assume they were trying to increase the effect of the mind control by having a large amount of minds connected at once. The Mass appeared to be made from fused Dummies, so something with intelligence was probably connected to it as well in a different area (we saw in game that you could have the Boy control a Dummy, and that Dummy control another Dummy so this is possible).

5. Relating to 4, once a Dummy is disconnected from the mind control, it has no will of its own. It isn't until the Boy is merged with the Mass that it begins to move. Obviously the Boy is completely controlling it (either because he can now control Dummies without a helmet, or for the reason below).

6. Finally, in the secret ending, we see that the Boy himself is a Dummy. In the background of the underground room, we see a person hooked to a mind control helmet. And when the Boy pulls the power to the area, we see him slump down like the other Dummies do when they aren't being controlled.

There is alot of story here, and I can't help but be reminded of, "I have no mouth, and I must scream" by Harlan Ellison. No, none of the gameplay is groundbreaking, but it's well done and the complete package is what makes it so good.


July 3, 2016, 5:42 pm

This article is one of many, and one of varied impression on game play, story telling and mechanics. I almost feel as if each should be looked at individually. Many games excel in one and not the other, challenging developers to strike a winning balance. Is it fair to say a game is "good" only if it has a satisfying narrative ending? Or if the puzzles at the end are most challenging, etc. Looking at the story itself it lacks to me personally. But the balance of other parts make this game something many others lack. I am sure no matter what clean and tidy potential ending the developers could have used, some would undoubtedly find a problem with it. The whole saying "can't please everyone" rings true. I enjoyed how the story kept the interest, liked that the puzzles were easily figured out, versus Tomb Raider style of maddening ones that require to much to solve at times. The visuals were perfection to me, smooth and non-jerking. Those in themselves give this little game all the staying power needed. As a story to enjoy, I was deeply disappointed, not just in the story itself, but the lack of follow through. I had at least expected the ending to be as smooth as the game had played. So although many are perfectly content with the non-ending, ending, it failed. But this game deserves every high mark given, easily. I would not be willing to say it's over-hyped just due to a failing story conclusion. It is a smash hit in other regards. Besides, if the developers choose to continue the story from this abrupt point... well they certainly can.


July 3, 2016, 7:20 pm

What I find funny is that a lot of people have to compare "grueling, hard" gameplay with Dark Souls. Every goddamn time. It's actually a trope that is becoming quite irritating among HARDCORE GAMERS.

Dark Souls shouldn't be compared to any other "trial and error" games. Because if you can put up with the bullshit that Dark Souls throws at you, you shouldn't bitch about any other game doing it. By the way, most people just Youtube how to beat games nowadays anyways, and then stomp on forums boasting how they beat a HARDCORE GAME BECAUSE I'M A HARDCORE GAMER; all the while forgetting to mention they had to practically cheat and not put HOURS into the game like some people.

This article reminds me of someone who likes to be the "odd man out" and disliking something just to be cool, but still trying to smooth things over by giving it a "pass" for the people that would pick this article apart.

I haven't played Inside, but I swear, I saw the Dark Souls comparison, and thought I'd get my two cents out -- stop comparing EVERY "hard", misguiding game to Dark Souls, people.


July 3, 2016, 8:37 pm

Before reading anything other than the headline and the title, is this article about a "massively overhyped" game, or a game that received praise that was "a little over the top"?


July 4, 2016, 3:53 am

My biggest issue was with the story. I'm as fond of vague visual storytelling as the next person, but this one kind of went off the rails at the end. I haven't replayed it yet to get the 'secret' ending, but the one most players will experience was really just equal parts silly and hollow. It felt like I spent the whole game dissecting this bleak, tense world trying to figure out what was going on and then all of a sudden I'm this giant blob of body parts crashing through walls and terrorizing the staff. The game really did have me up until that point. When all the scientists were crowding around the tank I really felt the anticipation; after everything I'd been through, I wanted to see what they were seeing. And then, Frankenmush. And by the time I stopped chuckling after smashing through walls and windows terrorizing the suits, I'm lying motionless on the coastline followed by, credits? What the...? I would definitely recommend the game but the hype I heard before finally playing it was a bit too much.


July 4, 2016, 4:50 am

Just because you don't understand doens't mean its a bad story, hell, its the best part, I'll try to quickly cover some points you mentioned: The zombies, the boy, the blob, were results of some kind of scientific experiment that went wrong, the blob became a powerfull being, just like an AI machine that rebels against the humans. The blob was tired of being kept INSIDE the lab, it wanted to run away. For some reason, it developed an ability to control other test subjects, like a hive mind, connected telepatically, so it controled the boy (and possible the player) to break free, thats why the boy knows what to do, where to go and how to go. It lies motionless for possible 2 reasons: 1- it died, which i don't believe, since its very resilient, and seems like it was moving. 2- The boy/players filled its purpouse, it became free, OUTSIDE, enjoying its freedom, taking a sun bath, breathing. It stopped controling the boy or the player, hence you can't control it anymore, Of course, there is still a lot of unanswered questions, Why people were trying to kill the boy? What about the obvious alien presence? What the secret ending means?

ez life

July 4, 2016, 4:52 am

"Gaming, as a medium, isn't very good at telling stories." What fucking planet do you live on?


July 4, 2016, 6:22 am

Have to say, i absolutely agree with you. I like ambiguous storytelling. I do, but with "Inside" it really feels like Playdead just threw a bunch of themes at us without any attempt to form a story. So many events in the game just happen for a WTF moment.

Vagueness just for the sake of vagueness gets old really fast and it feels like Playdead didnt want to dedicate themselves to any story or theme. I liked some of the overall themes of control, but the random occurrences like the drowning girl, and the EMP blasts seemed too random. It looks cool but doesnt add to the bare bones story.

And honestly, its sad to see such vehement hate thrown at anyone who didnt LOVE the game. I liked it for the style, and the silent execution. I give it a 7, but i personally do not find it memorable, and the ending felt like a cop out to me. But hey, i'm glad that people like it. Although i completely disagree on sites like IGN heaping praise simply because "events happen and i have no idea what is going on". Maybe its because i've seen enough art/indie films, so this artsy approach isnt new to me. Games like Gone Home and Braid hit me much harder, and to this day i can still remember those games. I've already forgotten about most of Inside apart from its visuals, and WTF ending.

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