I finished INSIDE in one sitting. I fervently replayed the game with friends that evening, and two days later I combed through the game for the hidden Achievement areas and unlocked the secret ending. This may sound obsessive, and it is, but I blame the game’s fascinating dystopian mythos more than my own weakness of character. The replay experience is a testament to the robustness and depth of INSIDE’s design. Repeat exposure to different environments, animations, and interactions reveals unnoticed details, and personal theories that developed during the initial fly-by - and, trust me, the designer intends on your own interpretation - are subject to confirmation or denial.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to play this game nightly. It’s a brief, linear arc with two endings. Something of its impact is definitely lost the second time around, but compared to other games with a similar structure, I’ve never been so eager to just see everything again, to turn every stone, reconnect with the game. If I ever kid, I will make them play INSIDE.
Additionally, INSIDE’s game-feel becomes only more apparent on successive playthroughs. Game-feel is a way of describing what puts you in your character’s shoes - the bond that connects the player to the actions on the screen; usually, it’s movement. Mario’s jump is, to date, an absolute pinnacle in game-feel. It just… feels good to jump in a Mario game, and that expression of feel-goodness becomes the interactive language of the game. Even if you’re not using it to accomplish any task, the speed, lightness, and arc of every jump is weirdly intoxicating. I’ve found a similar level of game-feel intensity in INSIDE’s character animations. From the way the Boy windmills his arms while falling, or presses his arms up against walls and windows when he hits them, to the way Albinos hurl their own limp bodies from high ledges, or huddle around the Boy as if for warmth, INSIDE is a masterclass in character animation. No matter how many times I played through one particular chapter, it was never not terrifying to sprint down a root-whorled forest path from a pack of attack-dogs. The emotional power isn’t in the context or the so-called “Story” -- it’s in the fundamental look and feel of the scene itself.
What surprised me most about my repeat playthroughs was the quality of the game’s hidden Achievement puzzles. For most Steam games, Achievements are literally an afterthought, tacked on obligingly at the end of production, not so much anymore to satisfy completionist gamer as… well, it’s just what you do now. This Pressure to Achieve has graced us with bullshit ‘Achievements’ such as “Complete the Tutorial” and “Play for 100 hours,” but INSIDE designed each hidden area with unique identity. Entrances to these areas are indicated by snaking yellow wires visible from the sections of the main path, leading to a room with some kind of magnetic disco battery you must shut down. But most of the secret rooms have puzzles of their own, puzzles which bend INSIDE’s mechanical logic into corners as obscure as the rooms in which they’re found. Maye these puzzles were scrapped ideas, too quirky to make the final game, though the fact that they all provide you with some new knowledge implies they were designed with the same seriousness as the main quest. Not to mention the reality-shattering, Philip K. Dick plot-twist that the Achievements add up to in the secret ending.