It doesn’t take much more than a passing glance at InnerSpace to determine whether or not you’ll enjoy it. If indie explore-em-ups with ethereal visuals and soothing electronic scores are your bag then you’ll immediately know what you’re in for here. Of course, there’s more to this game than just being another Journey-like, and the things that set it apart are some of its best qualities.
InnerSpace is, unlike other ‘experiential’ indie joints, surprisingly talkative. The game begins by introducing the player character as The Cartographer, the pilot of a small aircraft called an airframe and one of the last remaining inhabitants of The Inverse, a mysterious dying world where gravity pulls outwards instead of in. Along with The Archaeologist, who pilots a submarine, it’s up to The Cartographer to uncover the truths of the ancient keepers of The Inverse and find a way to escape before it all collapses. Rather than thrust players into the unknown and then manufacture intrigue by keeping them in the dark, InnerSpace gushes volumes about its worlds and their inhabitants, whether through short, sharp cutscenes or in the collectible relics strewn throughout. There’s a keen sense of storytelling on show here, as the main characters piece together the state of their world and the origins of their story at perfect pace with the player, and pivotal themes are left to interpretation without feeling like convenient gaps in the lore.
Save Image > Set As Wallpaper
This same level of care and consideration applies to the game part of InnerSpace as well. At face value it’s pretty standard fare for this scene – explore a series of increasingly esoteric and otherworldly locations while solving some light puzzles and picking up the odd treasure. Not a new concept by far but one that lives or dies by two important notions: gently lead the player down the right path without taking them out of the moment, and don’t make the player do the same thing for too long. InnerSpace nails both of these ideas. Each of the handful of worlds encourages players to explore at their own pace and find solutions naturally, without signposting the immediate goal, and every action and reaction adheres to a language of gameplay that the player is taught unknowingly. Particularly great are the few encounters with demigods, ancient denizens of the Inverse whose huge forms become puzzles in themselves, not unlike the fantastic Shadow of the Colossus. Crucially, every beat is paced perfectly and leads players ever onward to its engaging conclusion while affording them complete agency to break away and explore at their behest.
You may act 50 feet tall, mate, but I can see straight through you
So for the most part, all great, save for one glaring detraction – the act of controlling the airframe. In large spaces of open air or sea (did I mention the plane can also turn into an underwater vehicle? Baller) the airframe is a joy to pilot, with a smart, streamlined control layout and a merciful disregard for physics. Unfortunately, as soon as the spaces tighten or more demanding flight paths are required a combination of speed and low manoeuvrability can lead to small bursts of frustration. Not enough to sour the experience completely, but enough to make me wonder if the game could’ve been perfect had the developers tweaked things just a little more. Unlockable airframes with unique handling stats do help mitigate the issue somewhat, and it only ever really becomes a problem when scouring the cranniest of nooks for hidden relics, but it’s a disappointing foil to an otherwise lovely experience.
If I’m the Cartographer, he should have been called the Sub-scriber
I use the word lovely with no hesitation, because InnerSpace is lovely. To play this game is to be wrapped up in a cool blanket of soft blues and pinks, gently caressed by air and sea as you gaze in wonderment at the last bastion of a once great civilization, beautiful in its own undoing. In preparing this review I took dozens of screenshots in-game, all of which I would happily set as my desktop wallpaper or even frame and hang on my wall. The soothing colour palette and windswept motions of the scenery are as visually alluring as they are physically inviting, beckoning the player to prod at the seams and discover the secrets that lie within. Couple that with a soothing electronic soundtrack that perfectly compliments the on-screen events (going so far as to change tune to match the surroundings) and this is a world I never wanted to leave.
All I’m saying is if huge fiery orbs didn’t want to be flown directly into, they shouldn’t be so shiny
InnerSpace is a thoughtful and well-crafted exploratory adventure that would be perfect were it not for the odd moment of frustration with its controls. Creating a sensory experience this profound while backing it up with solid storytelling and gameplay is no mean feat and fans of games like Journey and Abzu would do well to get themselves lost in The Inverse.
Reviewed on Xbox One X | Review code supplied by publisher