After Limbo (2010), independent Danish development team Playdead, captained by Arnt Jensen and Dino Patti Christian (who recently left the company), produced its best game, at least until now. It is a 2.5D platform, scrolling both horizontally and vertically; your avatar is a faceless child constrained to move only along these dimensions, while the virtual camera has access to the third dimension.
The scenarios are also developed along the third dimension with good perspective and parallax; also other characters and animals move occasionally along the third dimension.
The game world has seemingly realistic connotations, at least at the beginning ,when we are in a forest and we get closer to what looks like a farm; but almost immediately it acquires a metaphysical and hyperreal meaning, appearing as a succession of huge enclosed space claustrophobic and artificial counterpointed occasionally by outdoor escapes in twilight scenarios degraded and no less distressing.
This time the authors have renounced to the contrasted black color of Limbo, but except the red of the child’s shirt all other colors are very soft, and there is a predominant environmental tint that varies between gray and blue; the effect is still bleak and alienating, although aesthetically pleasing, especially thanks to a wonderful lighting effect. The best parts of the game are under water; you often immerse yourself in enormous reservoirs surrounded by colossal and enigmatic technological structures with a metaphysical effect of suspension from reality that made me think of a sort of Abzu in dark! Some diving symbolically recall the suspension in the prenatal amniotic fluid, which has a lot to do with the purpose of your adventure …. The ending is a strong metaphor for procreation….
At first you have no idea why you find yourself alone in the woods and try to penetrate this sort of farm where many children are taken against their will. But why entering into the wolf’s lair instead of running away? Should you rescue someone?
The storytelling is strictly implicit, but much more defined than Limbo. In fact, the scenarios are much more concrete and the third dimension is a stage for a series of events that clarify the narrative context. Starting from the first minutes of the game you understand that you are in a sort of huge farm where strange experiments are performed on animals and on humans, especially children. You will have to front mind control experiments, zombie pigs with implanted worms (self-quote from Limbo) and creatures of the deep reminiscent of Samara in The Ring (2002)! All symbols of a dystopic reality.
Gameplay is based on solving environmental puzzles, but very different from those of Limbo; the difficulty progression is much more gradual and there is no need to die dozens of times before being able to solve them. Inside also play with physics as much as Limbo; best puzzles introduce an alienating and brilliant effect: water suspended on the ceiling!
Movements and child’s interactions, and more generally the game physics, reach the state of art; it is especially noticeable in the ending, where you are no more controlling your avatar…
I noticed a less sardonic vein than Limbo, even if not entirely absent; a bit of cynicism is evident when you control the minds of large groups of zombies, with somes hilarious effects.
Playdead remains faithful to its inspiration aimed at exploring the darker sides of existence and humanity, and delivers an indefinite narration with a fairly pessimistic global sense that leaves no hope. I therefore do not recommend it to those who suffer from depression! Don’t miss the ending scene, reminiscent of the classic movie The 400 Blows (1959) by Truffaut.
!!!READ THE FOLLOWING PART ONLY AFTER COMPLETING THE GAME!!!
Inside is the videogames analogue of Animal Farm or 1984 by Orwell, best known examples of dystopic novels. It’s about mind control, homologation, alienation, homo homini lupus, lost of freedom, human degradation, etc.
You could read in the naked female underwater creature the metaphor of a seemingly salvific love and you could understand the final absorption in the “thing” as a procreative act for a new life expectancy, and at the same time a rebellion act, a virus inoculated in the system. Hope and rebellion both destined to vanish on the ocean shore; a metaphor for the futility of life and the vanity of our efforts?
There is an alternative “secret” ending you can access to only if you have previously performed precise actions; go on youtube to learn more:
The child arrives in a cave, in the background you see a mind control device, like the ones you used to control the zombies, but larger and connected to big pipes; they seem the pipes that were connected to the shapeless entity in the first ending… The child shuts off the power, the power is cut and the kid… he collapses unconscious… as a zombie !!
He was controlled by the “thing”, which has led the child up to the generator to put itself out of its misery?! The “system” that destroys itself? So throughout the whole game have you played as a zombie remotely controlled by the same “system” that tries to repress you, but at the same time for some internal abnormality and disorder it used you to unplug itself?! This gives to your gaming experience a profound meaning: you faced the challenges offered by the game for no reason, just like a dull zombie! You passively accepted the challenges devised by game developers! Personally, I read a criticism of gaming experiences that only offer challenges without expressing artistic content or requesting intellectual endeavor. Even in Limbo there was such a meta-ludic reflection. Futility of playing games only for non sense challenges! It can also be read as a pessimistic metaphor for life, which in fact does not seem to make sense, a zero-sum game! And this seems to be emphasized by both endings!