In a meta-commentary about video games and our own free will, INSIDE developer Playdead’s second game (also its second masterpiece after Limbo) forces players to question the nature of control. The story tasks players with guiding a nameless boy through a series of puzzles and platforming levels in a gloomy, harsh world. The resulting journey leads players to escape from armed guards and infected animals, use mind-control helmets, and genetically modify the boy’s body to complete puzzles.
A clear follow-up to Limbo, INSIDE’s art style is decidedly bleak. For much of an INSIDE playthrough, the majority of players’ screens will be inky black. Striking colors (particularly shades of red) show up sporadically, but when they do, these brilliant splotches are used to call attention to a key story or gameplay element. This is a familiar experience for those who played Limbo; Playdead is a studio that makes deliberate choices.
INSIDE’s story runs around three and a half hours, but the game’s concise runtime allows for one of the tightest experiences in gaming. INSIDE isn’t just the best game of 2016, it’s also a proof of concept. There are some experiences that you can only get from a video game.
I would be remiss not to acknowledge Blizzard’s Overwatch as an honorable mention. To me, Game of the Year is a place to acknowledge accomplishments in story and single-player gameplay, but I recognize that as an antiquated attitude toward multiplayer games as a whole. For what it’s worth, I last played Overwatch yesterday. I haven’t touched INSIDE since I beat it in 2016.