Games like InnerSpace always manage to draw my attention: Gorgeous art design, memorable music and a mysterious world and story to discover. I can easily see it getting nominated and winning prizes based on its looks alone.
Will it be yet another masterpiece that will forever be remembered or will the wind in its sails fade before long? Let’s dive in!
One thing that immediately sets InnerSpace apart when comparing it to other similar games like ABZÛ and Journey, is that it isn’t afraid to tell a story using dialogs and written lore. The beforementioned games let the player discover the mysteries of their world mostly by exploring and forming your own opinion about what could have come to pass but this game goes into more detail.
In the final days of the Inverse, you must help the Archaeologist, a submarine like entiry, recover the last remaining memories before they are lost forever. You play as an airborn entity known as the Cartographer and you’ll fly through ancient skies and abandoned oceans to discover the lost history of this fading realm, where entire civilizations have died, yet their gods still wander. The Inverse is a collection of inverted planets, connected by portals. Think of it as flying around on the inside of a planet, with no horizon in sight.
You explore multiple environments, each with lots of hidden secrets and at the end of each one is a “Boss Flight” versus various Demigods. As said earlier, InnerSpace doesn’t shy away from telling you a story. The Archeologist and the Demigods each share a bit of information with you through dialog and the rest of the lore can be found inscribed on the relics.
Let’s be honest with each other. It’s highly likely the artstyle is what got your attention in the first place. InnerSpace never seems to disappoint in this department; you could screenshot almost any moment and the result would look great as a framed piece of art. The pastel colours and lightning create breathtaking sceneries.
It’s such a shame then that this artstyle sometimes counteracts the type of game you’re playing. The aim of the game is to explore these areas as thorough as possible but you’ll often think you’re flying towards a tunnel of some sort while in fact it was just a differently shaded spot on a cliffside. Things that look concave from a distance end up being convex boulders that you just fly into.
That being said, if I were to rate the visuals alone, I’d still give the game a solid 9.5/10 as I’m just that much of a fan of its looks.
The music in the game is equally impressive. The ambient music is soothing when it needs to be and epic when you need to feel the scale of the events you’re witnessing. Picking up multiple groups of “wind” in sequence creates a beautiful & pleasing melody.
On the flipside, if you’re not always as accurate and elegant in controlling your aircraft, the sound produced by bumping into walls will just add to your frustration. If you’re anything like me, and I hope you’re not, you’ll hear it often and you’ll be grinding your teeth.
Whenever you speak to other beings, they’ll also use the gibberish that you’d normally expect from 3D platformers. Luckily it never gets annoying, unlike the ‘song’ that plays when you’re talking to the Archeologist, which sounds like a ringtone and makes you wish that the owner would PLEASE pick up their phone. Besides this minor gripe, the rest of the score is fitting for the atmosphere and it would get a great grade overall.
Interesting story. Awesome graphics. Impressive musical score. So we have an overal perfect game on our hands then? Well, not quite. While I was prepared to fall madly in love with InnerSpace after watching the first trailers, I’ve perhaps set my expectations too high as the gameplay is were the entire thing falls a bit flat.
Saying the controls are difficult to master would be an understatement. It took me way past the halfway mark before I felt at ease using the two analog sticks to manoeuvre around the smaller environments. The left analog stick is used to pan (move left/right) and tilt (move up/down, though that is a pretty vague concept in this game) while the right analog stick is used to roll. The main issue is that you’re always moving forward and too fast at that. It makes it very hard to survey your surroundings and you’re usually confined to small spaces, so prepare to bump into a lot of walls.
The game tries to give you more control over your movement by also allowing you to ‘drift’, it slows you down and allows you to make sharp corners. It’s useful (and the game would be borderline unplayable without it) but it’s not a perfect solution as even in drift you’re still moving and you don’t have ample time to decide where to move to next. An airframe you unlock later on has a drift that acts more like an airbrake and after giving it a go, I wondered why it wasn’t an available option from the very start as it alleviated much of my frustration. Ironically it’s also the one with the fastest forward movement and smallest wingspan, so it wasn’t the ideal one to hit switches in tight spaces.
You also have a dive button as a significant portion of the game takes place underwater. Admittedly, this controlled a lot more fluent (because of the reduced speed) and I preferred it over flying around. The surface of the water also provides some sort of “horizon” of which I never realised the importance to my sense of orientation until now.
I can’t highlight enough how much of a disorienting experience the game can be at times. Especially so for spectators as my wife couldn’t look at the screen while I was playing without feeling nausea. In big open spaces it’s tolerable, but when having to perform drift after drift inside a small chamber, trying to hit a lever that seems impossible to reach… There were moments where I seriously considered giving up on the game entirely.
It also didn’t help that a lot of the time, I was hopelessly lost at what to do next. The Archeologist spoke of ‘opening the next gate’ but I couldn’t for the life of my find what switch I had to hit next. I feel this could have been solved by placing more collectible groups of ‘wind’ to guide me where to go next. It’s used sometimes, but not enough and because you can collect them before the switch is active, you forgot to check back on previously explored locations. Added to this is the fact that some of the structures and entries look a lot alike so it becomes hard to tell which you’ve already visited. Due to the world’s cyclical design, you’ll end up in the same spot a lot of times.
It’s also not immediately clear which actions have an effect. You’ll find a lot of flags in the second ‘world’ for example and it seems as if they serve some sort of function, as you can destroy them by flying into them. At one point I even got all of the flags, only to see them respawn when I re-entered the area. Maybe playing Journey made me care too much about flying into a piece of cloth… Later on you’ll also have icicles that have zero effect when hit, but at the same time there will be plant-like things that you HAVE to hit to progress. A bit more guidance or a different kind of audiovisual feedback would have helped a great deal at helping me figure out which destroyable object holds any significance.
Luckily I persisted, as the latter half of the game is by far the most enjoyable. The “Boss Flights” become more interesting and a new “chase” element is introduced where you’re supposed to fly after birds. You know what to do and where to go + it takes place in a big open space so it basically takes away all the complaints I had.
In the game’s final moments you’ll fly after some butterflies through the skeletal remains of a giant serpent and this was possible the best time I’ve had with the entire game. I’d gladly replay this particular section of the game many times over!
***END OF SPOILERS***
InnerSpace is a gorgeous looking game. The pastel colours would look right at home in an art gallery and the sound design fits the tone of the game perfectly. It’s just such a shame that the games controls, combined with the sometimes confined spaces and the level’s spherical design add so many frustrations. It needed a lot more guidance or at least a more efficient way to tell the player what to do next. The ending of the game is definitely worth experiencing so it’d be a shame if players were to give up before then. It’s an audiovisual masterpiece, but a flawed one.
Undecided if it’s the game for you? Check the video below for the first half hour: