Who says video games can’t teach us something important about the world we live? People who’ve clearly never played Inner World, that’s who!
I was really excited when I found The Inner World on GOG.com a couple of weeks ago. The art style in the screenies looked fantastic! The trailer’s presentation of the over arching storyline was intriguing. The final selling point was that it was a point and click adventure. I hadn’t purchased one in a really long time and this seemed like it could be a great game to break that dry spell. I bought it within the same hour I found it, which is a rare impulse buy for me. My hat’s off to Studio Fizbin in facilitating this quick process with great advertising.
Studio Fizbin is a newly founded independent studio of young and clearly very talented developers from Germany. Their project appears to have been funded by non-profit institutions for the arts, Film Academy at Baden-Wuerttemberg and Media and Film Society at the same. The team is surprisingly diverse as men and women go (seriously there’s even a plant and an arcade box on the team) and the quality of this game says a lot about their potential to deliver great games in the future. The Inner World appears to be their second game.
I’m still very pleased with the art and with the over-arching story. The slight disappointment is, unfortunately, in the gameplay itself. It just falls short in some places as a fluid adventure and instead delivers a tedious, poorly cobbled together sequence of unintuitive tasking that bored me and left me wondering what order I was supposed to do things most of the time. However, the help system for the game provides some very clear clues if you really just can’t figure out in what order you must execute your strategy.
There’s a certain element of mystery point-and-click adventures attempt to invoke and that’s to be expected. It’s not supposed to be obvious what to do next, but the player should be able to get ideas from the flow of gameplay, the information collected, and the current situation they happen to be in. The Inner World leaves the player hanging far too much, relying on excessive back and forth between scenes while implying that the player should be able to find what they need within the same scene.
Interaction within each scene is a very good time. I enjoyed talking to all the characters, clicking on all the objects, and learning how to assemble tools to solve puzzles. All of that is done rather well and they were instrumental in keeping me clicking to the end of the game. The stories the characters tell are totally award worthy! I mean, it’s somewhat of a science to make dialogue that’s kid friendly but also mature on a level that engages adults. There wasn’t a single character I didn’t get at least one laugh out of, and some of them were just so hilarious that I listened to their responses several times for the pleasure of it. The writers deserve great praise for writing such funny characters. I should also mention here that the voice acting, while amateur-ish in some ways, was so off-key (for example, adults are clearly voicing children in the game) that it turned out to be a perfectly amusing tone for the way the story is told. There’s clearly some of this done on purpose, but in someways the results just seemed to emerge on their own. I’m not sure if this was a slight accident or if the developers were aware, but it turned out to be awesome anyway. Great fun!
Where it falls apart is in properly setting up for puzzle solving. It felt at times too much like a predetermined order of events. Which was annoying. I’m not talking about your regular old sequence puzzles here. I’m talking about if you try to pick up the net before the stick, you’ll find the net isn’t interactive type of thing. Throughout the game I was presented with puzzles in which I knew what I had to do, had some ideas how to go about it, but which the mechanics and set-up of seemed to get in the way. For example, I might have figured out to design a tool to fetch an object, but obtaining the parts for the tools would be clunky and completely unintuitive. Since the puzzles themselves weren’t hard to figure out, the challenge rested in keeping the player from executing the strategy. In other places, it simply wasn’t clear what the functionality of creatures and objects was and therefore left the player with a misunderstanding of what was at their disposal. And that was just frustrating. In their attempts to give the game challenge, the developers veered into frustration territory. And boredom. Aside from listening to the characters talk I felt bored a lot of the time. But not enough to quit the game. The story is well written and will keep you asking for more.
The story is complex and yet simple. It’s about Robert, a sheltered and very naive young man who steps out into the real world for the first time. In fact, his entire life was much like the people in Plato’s Cave. Living in a palace was his entire experience of the world and he was misled from childhood to believe things that weren’t true and helped him form false expectations. Once outside of the palace, he learns that things were not as he was told at all. This leads him on an adventure to learn the truth, meet new people, and find his own role within the Inner World.
The metaphors are fun and engaging. It’s packed with political queries such as what the role of leaders might be in society and the nature of power. It also delves a bit into the social aspects of life through the characters. Early in the game you meet a homeless mother and her baby, a street peddler who deals in trash, and a prisoner who was thrown in jail for no other reason than he was different. The policeman guarding the street has no idea who he’s protecting or what to do should anything happen, but he does know to fear his leaders “or else”. These encounters were full of both subtle and forthright messages in balanced proportions. The fact that adult gamers who participate in society can easily identify the analogues to the real world is praiseworthy and makes it a game that’s fun (and appropriate) for the entire family.
One unique feature of the game that really stood out for me was the manipulation of objects you collect which act as tools for puzzle solving. It’s not the first game to do this, but the clever use of objects was refreshing and felt smart. The other unique feature, which I think was both a good idea and a poorly executed idea, was the ability to travel back and forth between scenes in order to solve the puzzles. This was due, in no small part, to the slow pace at which the characters walk from scene to scene and the inability of the player to pick up this pace. It was also far too tedious to do all that painful walking back and forth to solve puzzles because the game requires so much walking. If I could have pressed the spacebar and jumped more easily from scene to scene, this wouldn’t have been nearly as annoying as it turned out. It also would have made solving problems much more pleasant.
Overall, I’m ambivalent about the game. The game succeeds, but had some serious gameplay flaws. If not for the story and the characters, I would probably have quit after the second scene. I also found I was bored too often despite being interested in the story. The gameplay just didn’t carry the story for me. I’d give the game a solid 7 out of 10 and I’d definitely buy another title by Studio Fizbin.
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