There’s really no other way to say it other than Inside is flawless. Obviously what it means to be perfect is different to every person and player, but it’s impossible to deny that Inside fully realizes the precise and exact vision that Playdead wanted to achieve. There is no such thing as wasted space or an unfulfilled promise in this game.
Without a single word, it creates a complete and overwhelming world. It seems to blast you in the chest with its full weight but then it just keeps going and going, diving deeper than you thought possible. What you think is the whole picture slowly yet unrelentingly and brutally widens out to reveal what you thought was the end is really just the beginning. By the end, you walk away with the simple yet indescribable conclusion that you know nothing.
Speaking of the ending, it is the single most tremendous sequence of events this year in games. Hell, it might be the best ending in any game I’ve ever played. My jaw was seriously hanging open for the entire last 20 minutes. The week following playing this game left me in a haze, a stupor of wonder in how it managed to pull off one of the greatest feats I’ve ever witnessed. Just writing about it is standing the hair on my arms up.
Then there’s the astounding display of academic-level game design contained within. Through the limited mechanics of running, jumping, and grabbing, there is not a single repeated implementation of them. Each puzzle is completely unique but totally dependent on your progress through those that preceded them. It teaches you to play while giving your room to experiment.
There is no such thing as settling into a groove. As the box of possibilities expands, you are always tasked with thinking outside of it again and again. There are no shortcuts in informing the player. As you push and pull your way in and out of trouble, your objectives and goals reveal themselves naturally and intuitively. Just from top to bottom, there is an awe-inspiring amount of awareness and intelligence infused in the gameplay.
The game is only four hours long. It might even barely be three. But in that brief time, it achieves a haunting, eerie sort of zen, a state of being I haven’t seen since Journey. It is fully within itself, like a pitcher throwing a perfect game or a point guard that can’t seem to miss. It’s an unrelenting barrage of flawless design and execution. It will and should be studied for years to come. It is, perhaps too obviously, the best game of the year.