For whatever reason, it seems like the fourth quarter of 2017 has been an absolute golden age of ports hitting the App Store. Playdead’s Inside [Free] was just released, and we were lucky enough to be able to play through the game beforehand. As far as the iOS port is concerned, Playdead absolutely knocked this one out of the park. It’s totally universal across the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, optimized for the iPhone X, supports MFi controllers, and has totally seamless iCloud save syncing. The touch controls are even well done, and it’s a free download with a one-time $6.99 (as of this writing) unlock. If there’s a box they’re not checking with this port, I don’t know what it is. Unfortunately, I’m just not sure if I really enjoyed the game that much… But, more on that later.
To give a little history on the legacy of Inside, it’s effectively a spiritual successor to Limbo [$3.99]. (A game which we also didn’t like that much, resulting in a review which was far more controversial than we expected.) Inside was originally released last summer on the Xbox One, PC, and PlayStation 4, with about a month between each platform’s release. It takes place in a mysterious, surreal dystopian world with an actual color palette instead of Limbo’s stark black and white art style. It was generally received favorably by critics, and won loads of awards for its art direction and sound design.
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Inside starts with a bang, with absolutely no introduction. The game loads, and there you are, a boy running through the woods. You continue running to the right, and quickly begin to realize that something isn’t right here. You see humanoid figures being loaded into a truck and eventually encounter some guards. Chances are, they’ll kill you- Not just kill you, but violently strangle you. You then respawn a few seconds back at a checkpoint, and the trial and error begins of what sorts of things you can possibly do differently to avoid being killed by the guard.
The rest of the game more or less persists in a similar fashion. You’ll be mauled to death by dogs, shot to death, fall to your death, get tasered by robots, run over by pigs, drown, and so much more while solving puzzles to keep the game going. These puzzles start simple, and initially just involve moving boxes around to get up on a platform that’s a bit out of your reach. However, it won’t take long before you’re plugged into a mind control helmet to control these husk-like humanoid creatures, solving puzzles involving switches, levers, raising and lowering water, and loads more.
What I didn’t like about these puzzles is that it rarely seemed like there was any middle ground between those that are incredibly obvious and other puzzles that leave you totally stumped. One of the things that makes Inside so beautiful is there’s absolutely no UI, or any visual clutter beyond turning your device into a window looking inside of this strange world. Unfortunately, that also sometimes leads to what can be best described as adventure game pixel hunting. You know when you’re playing Monkey Island, or any similar game and you’re not sure what to do next so you just start clicking absolutely everything? More than a few of Inside’s puzzles gave me a similar vibe, as rarely are you given any kind of cue as to what you’re supposed to do next- You just die until you figure it out.
Even more irritating is the number of things in the game which will just kill you with absolutely no indication to the player that it’s even hazardous. You’ll trip over seemingly innocuous bumps in the game world while being chased, stumble, and die. You’ll walk over boards that break, falling to your death, and many other things like this. The checkpointing system is generous, so you never lose any progress when this happens, but it’s just exhausting to constantly feel like the game is saying