I'll preface this review simply by saying that you absolutely should play Inside, and the less you know going in the better. With that said I certainly won't spoil anything in regards to where this game will take you or what puzzles you'll solve along the way.
When described at it's most reductive, Inside is a super smart puzzle platformer. It drips with atmosphere and is punctuated by moments of terrifying wonder and grizzly deaths. It's hard not to evoke the name of its predecessor Limbo when describing it since the initial premise seems so similar. While you may start the game as a child out in the woods just as before make no mistake, Inside expands on the ideas that made Playdead's first effort so memorable and improves on them across the board.
The deceptively minimalist art direction is all at once haunting, gorgeous and mysterious. There's a dark ethereal quality to the visuals that drive the story forward and keeps you enamored with it's strong sense of place, tone and atmosphere. I dare say you could freeze any frame of the game and it wouldn't look out of place hanging in an art gallery. There's a detailed coherence to everything that happens front and center as well as in the background that sell the world and tell a story. This meticulous attention to detail extends especially to the design of your nameless boy avatar. While lacking in any facial features the smooth and carefully crafted animations serve to make him expressive and believable. He'll stiffen behind a corner as if to brace against being found. His breathing will pick up and become desperate in situations of impending danger. He melds and reacts organically to the world around him in ways I found impressive and surprising. Every object in the environment natural or otherwise serves as either a piece of a puzzle or a detail that helps tell a part of the story. There isn't a single wasted effect: not a pixel out of place. Everything drips with a level of polish and consistency that isn't seen in most games.
The puzzles on display here are hardly the most difficult challenges in the world and I never felt like I got stuck for more than a couple minutes at a time. That's not to say they were all immediately apparent though either. The game does a good job of changing things up from beginning to end by introducing new ideas every couple of chapters. After expanding on a certain mechanic a couple of times it moves on to the next thing before outstaying it's welcome or becoming tedious. When a certain mechanic does come back around it's usually combined with others you've used since then to create interesting mashups of existing ideas.
It's impossible to make anything more than sweeping generalizations about the world and narrative without spoiling large parts of what makes Inside so special. Suffice it to say that I wasn't prepared for how deep the metaphorical rabbit hole goes here and would never have guessed at how it all comes together by the time the credits roll. I was completely enraptured by every moment of it's 3 hour ride and found equal enjoyment in watching my significant other play through it from start to finish the very next day.
Inside is a veritable masterpiece. If there are any areas of it that Playdead didn't execute on fully and as intended then I certainly can't see them. There's a singular focus to everything happening on screen that comes together to form something a bit more than just the sum of its individual parts. Picturesque art direction, spectacular sound design and smartly layered puzzles all drew me into Inside's world of sinister awe. Not only did it captivate me from beginning to end but it's left me thinking about what transpired non stop since I've finished it. Without a word of spoken or written dialogue, Inside manages to say more with it's 3 hours than almost any game I've ever played.