4cr Plays: The Inner World
The funny thing about adventure games is that despite calling up memories of how gaming used to be in the 30-something gamer crowd, they were never really childish games. The games put out by Sierra and Lucasarts in the 80s and 90s were rife with adult humor and social commentary. Often the commentary was slipped into the games behind an outwardly childish exterior rife with dragons, princes, pirates, or wizards. It speaks volumes of the genre that the Leisure Suit Larry games were arguably the most immature of the bunch due to their reliance on juvenile humor and simple sight gags. Adult themes persisted in ways that were just benign enough to escape the notice of parents, but were rarely overt enough to limit the game’s acceptance. Despite their content, or perhaps because of it, adventure games have always been seen as some of the most family-friendly games available. This juxtaposition of complex themes and cunning puzzles with fantastic settings, characters, and writing has been a hallmark of the giants in the genre for decades and The Inner World does a fantastic job of carrying the torch for a new generation of adventure games.
The most immediately striking thing about The Inner World is the art style, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Right from the first scene the hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds look like something Ralph Bakshi would have produced in his prime. While most modern adventure games have taken the retro route, The Inner World serves as a representative of the next generation in adventure games. The smooth animation and extensive (and excellent!) voice acting combine to propel the genre into a world of higher poly counts and legitimate full motion video. The one downside is that the resolution of the art isn’t as high as it could be. This is only an issue because during some of the cutscenes, the camera is zoomed in on a specific character and the low resolution of the art becomes noticeable.
Even with that minor complaint, the combination of relatively smooth animation and hand painted backgrounds take the point and click mechanism to the next level. You directly drag objects together on the screen to initiate actions instead of marrying actions with items by clicking or using a text parser to enter commands. While the argument could be made that the simplification of the on-screen interactions dumbs down the game it feels more like a logical evolution of the genre in response to the general streamlining of games. Still, the puzzles are difficult enough that you’re often left scratching your head for a while before you resort to the well established in-game hint menu. These features make The Inner World as hard as you want it to be and I would certainly put it up against any of the classics in terms of difficulty.
The characters of The Inner World also really set the game apart. They are extremely well executed and evoke just the right amount of pity, hate, love, or admiration in each scene and are consistently maintained over the length of the game. Even minor characters are charming and well acted, showing the amount of care and attention paid to their creation. The story as a whole is unique and compelling with enough twists to remain unpredictable in its details and execution even if the broad strokes are familiar fantasy tropes. The childlike naivete of the main character Robert is entirely charming and really plays well against the acerbic wit of his companion Laura. None of the characters get tiresome or go too far into their well established models to get annoying. If the Inner World ends up famous for one thing in the long run it will most likely be the quality of the characters.
The one thing that I was actually surprised by in the game is the liberal use of “soft” curse words. The first time someone said “kick his ass” I was actually kind of surprised, but these characters talk like real people and serve as a constant reminder that true adventure games aren’t really made for kids. There’s nothing worse than PG level swearing though there is some not so subtle innuendo between a barmaid and a washed up priest that results in the bar closing for the night. It’s not really all that big of a deal, but it’s something to keep in mind depending on who you play games with.
Studio Fizbin and Headup Games have done a great job on The Inner World. It’s the first adventure game in a long time that actually had me feeling nostalgic for swapping floppies and decoding copy protection from a game manual. It’s available on Steam and totally worth the investment.