STAFF REVIEW of Inner Friend, The (Xbox One)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Inner Friend, The Box art I’m normally a big fan of odd and abstract games. You know the ones; they seem as though they were conjured out of some weird acid trip dream gone wrong, then decided to be put into videogame form. The problem with these games is that it’s very difficult to convey not only how they play, but the experience that you’re engaged in, as they are usually very nonfigurative with unique visuals and experiences. The same is true for The Inner Friend, developer PLAYMIND’s first outing as a studio, where a combination of platforming, puzzle solving and light horror elements combine to make for a very odd but memorable experience.

While it released for PC back in 2018, The Inner Friend is now here for console players, and while it’s a very unique and memorable experience, it certainly won’t be for everyone. I honestly had no idea what to expect going in, what I got though was a psychological horror game filled with symbolism and tense creepy moments, which at times can be more unnerving than a game filled with blood and gore.

As you begin The Inner Friend, you start floating at the ceiling in a room, looking down on someone as it appears they’re having some sort of nightmare. Are you a ghost or their soul? Is this an outer body experience? Thing is, instead of a face they simply have a beam of light coming out. As you move closer, the background changes to a familiar bedroom. You assume it’s yours, as you’re now some sort of mannequin child with portions of your ‘skin’ missing, like a jigsaw puzzle. As you look around the room you see a tear in the wall, leading to some sort of tunnel with no end. Of course, you go into it and start to plunge into nothingness.

You start freefalling, eventually landing on some floating buildings with no end in sight. As you fall into a portal you arrive in an old school that appears to have had some sort of catastrophic event within. You notice shadows of other children, seemingly frozen in time by some sort of red beam that’s pulsing. Levels are generally quite linear, and though you can explore the odd nook and cranny for collectibles, it’s generally a quite linear experience with little room to explore elsewhere.

There’s a handful of ‘levels’, each with their own goal, though don’t expect any sort of narration, story element or hand holding. You’re literally thrown into the game and nothing is explained to you in any way, even the meaning behind your motivation or what you’re actually doing. At first I initially thought it was about the person we see in the beginning on the bed maybe living through some nightmares, though after seeing the credits roll, I still have no idea. I don’t want to delve into any more of the levels, as The Inner Friend is quite short, and you’ll easily beat it in a single sitting, so detailing any more would ruin much of the experience.

Played in third person, you maneuver your character around the stages trying to reach the goal at the end, whatever that should be. Some levels have some platforming sections, though because the controls don’t feel very tight, you’re going to miss jumps quite a bit due to not always going the exact direction you attempted to. There are a couple puzzle sections later on as well, and these suffer from the same control issues also. Not that they are impossible by any means, but you’ll certainly have a few restarts due to it. In the last few sections you’ll also have a few stealth sections. Now, these aren’t very challenging, as it’s more just memorizing movement patterns from what you’re trying to avoid, but you don’t want to get seen and caught.

Where the gameplay is very minimal, simply walking and jumping around, sometimes escorting a shadow person, the real experience comes from its extensive and amazing visual and audio design. The visuals won’t blow you away by looking anywhere near photo realistic, but the way that the developers have crafted something so surreal and unique can be a sight to behold. One of the first things that came to mind was some of the set pieces from Alan Wake when objects were floating and moving around, or a scene you might remember from Poltergeist with hundreds of chairs stacked to form a massive pile.

Scenes like this really add a mysterious element to the whole experience. Jumping through broken mirrors into a seemingly forever darkness, only to come out the other end back into your bedroom is always a trippy experience. The best way I could describe it all is that you could think of the weirdest things you might have in one of your dreams, and The Inner Friend will top those. The psychological terror makes for some quite tense moments, even if it’s not designed to be outright “scary”.

Almost every level has a lot of tension to it, and this is masterfully done with some fantastic soundscapes. The audio is done so well and created such tension and an uneasy feeling, which even my seven year old daughter that was watching had to eventually cover her ears when she was enthralled with what I was playing. While there are no outright jump scares, the audio can really make you feel uneasy with the smallest of details.

The storytelling is more done through its overall experience rather than a traditional narrative that we’ve come to expect from most media. Visually driven, The Inner Friend gives you a very short experience, clocking at about an hour and a half, but it’s a memorable one. The Inner Friend is like one of those movies where the ending is left very ambiguous, allowing you to drawn your own conclusion however you will. Some enjoy these types of experiences, whereas others like myself, usually enjoy having a definitive answer. Don’t expect that here, even after the credits roll, as you’ll probably be left with many, many questions.

While flawed, especially when it comes to controls and a quite short runtime, I still enjoyed my time with The Inner Friend. I may not have completely understood all of its symbolism, but if you take it like more of an experience than a game, you can appreciate it more without your typical expectations. Bizarre and odd at times, but surreal for the majority, The Inner Friend tells its story through fantastical imagery, but it’s up to you to determine what all of it means to you.

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 4.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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