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Friday, July 19, 2024

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Review: InnerSpace (Steam)

The sky is the limit! Or not, since peaceful flight simulations have long since branched out and wisely threw some fantastical themes into the mix. InnerSpace is following in the footsteps of several indie games on Steam which focus on a philosophical approach through which even the “foes” are being vanquished without ever resorting to violence. As the Steam debut of PolyKnight Games, InnerSpace has also been successfully financed through a Kickstarter campaign which certainly didn’t ask for the impossible. Ambition should never be limited by lack of funds in the same manner through which setting unreasonable goals cannot be excused by the adage that “you can’t put a price on art”. Apparently you can and that’s why most seemingly small Kickstarter campaigns fail. InnerSpace is not about failure.

Trying to summarize my experience with this game in just a handful of words, I’d call it a journey of rediscovery through the flaws and creations of the past. Unlike the rapidly decaying fantasy realm from Lantern or AER Memories of Old, the world within InnerSpace has been dead and nearly forgotten by all remaining life forms. The Inverse’s origins are shrouded in mystery, yet the focal point of all progress was Wind: an energy form which helped Ancient civilizations to inhabit and prosper until mythological Demigods began to interfere. Ironically, both the Ancients and Demigods would perish in the ensuing conflict for control over Wind. The resource could not be usurped and it fought back by leaving the Inverse almost devoid of life. A reset button was pushed, if you will.

While the dead cannot be resurrected, their worldly remains still have many tales in store for those creative and intrepid few that wish to explore and re-chart the ruins left behind by the Ancients. In spite of being the architects of their downfall, a few Demigods have survived to present times. I won’t consider them the antagonists though. One of InnerSpace’s main characters is the Archaeologist. An inventor whose true origins or identity are unknown, he or she is always on-board a submarine which serves as a headquarters for all the efforts undertaken in the exploration and better understanding of the past.

The Archaeologist’s dependence on water could have been an obvious hindrance were it not for the fact that this inventor created a drone hybrid which is controlled by an artificial intelligence capable of charting the highest peaks or the furthest depths within the Inverse. Thus, you are the Cartographer. Affectionately referred to as “Cart” by your creator, your task is only simple at first glance. Reaching wherever the Archaeologist can’t maneuver the submarine, you must inspect the Ancient ruins, interact with them and upon acquiring all the secrets and relics housed within, report back with your findings. You can both fly and submerge through the various bodies of water found on some of the Inverse’s sundered worlds. Nimble and self-aware, you are a creation which has surpassed its creator.

Powered by the Unity Engine and sadly showcasing a few “legacy” features from its console versions, the Steam version of InnerSpace has no mouse support within the game’s Main Menu. Once you’re into the thick of the action, you’ll notice that this peripheral, which is a staple of PC gaming, will prove to be more of an obstacle than anything else. The developer should have mentioned that a controller is the only enjoyable alternative for the Steam version on its Store Page. ABZÛ didn’t shy away from admitting its control scheme limitations on the conventional mouse + keyboard layout.

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And yet the Diver was still more responsive than Cart could ever hope for. It all boils down to the inability of managing the speed within tight corridors and the many caves or tunnels which you’ll have to traverse in search of Wind and relics. Having to constantly slow down by pressing the Shift key instead of implementing various levels of velocity is just design oversight. Performance-wise, InnerSpace was an entirely smooth experience and it scaled perfectly to 4K resolution. Featuring a distinct visual style which is a nice mix of large pixels and minimalist particle effects, these help the game stand out even from its aforementioned competitors.

Despite lacking any voice acting, at least the soundtrack manages to offer InnerSpace some much needed Identity through its audio assets. The OST is as serene as I expected, given the peaceful exploration which the Cartographer will partake in. I won’t claim that recorded lines of dialogue would have made or broken the game, since I noticed that this particular subgenre never relies on sounds as much as it does on the visuals and their inherent symbolism. So it’s only a minor flaw which may not even bother you at all, depending on your own preferences. Tranquility comes in many forms, after all.

InnerSpace knew that it has to offer an original outlook to its adventure and it has wisely opted to go for a flying/underwater swimming hybrid gameplay. By itself, this sets it apart from AER’s flying and walking/cave dwelling gameplay, ABZÛ’s reliance on swimming or Superflight’s single core mechanic revolving around gliding. Indeed, there are several other Steam titles which focus on tranquil exploration, yet I’m certain that you got my point already. Mixing two means of transportation will always offer an interesting break from repetitiveness. Cart can swim just as gracefully as it is flying. Being an artificial construct instead of a living creature, also helps since the airframe can be upgraded to the point of having multiple “loadouts” to choose from. Some form factors can emphasize on speed while others focus more on durability or maneuverability.

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As I mentioned earlier on, there’s no combat and thus, no need to worry about failing the game. An airframe’s durability is just a measure of how many times can the drone scrape or outright hit walls and obstacles, until it gets respawned over a determined location. No “game over” here or having to safeguard Cart from imprudent exploration. Likewise, the Demigods still present within some of the ruins you shall visit, aren’t a threat to the game progression. The “fight sequences” between the explorers and the abstract life forms, are mostly comprised of environmental puzzles which I shall not explain in further detail, since I will not spoil the surprise for you.

Simply put, the more you advance the storyline, the more will Cart and his Archaeologist creator be able to integrate various Ancient technologies into their existing blueprints. Wind represents the second most important collectible after from the relics themselves. Neatly packaged into hovering white spheres, harvesting enough “Wind pockets” shall form the main currency for the upgrades that enhance the Cartographer beyond just the aesthetic changes of various airframes. You’re in no hurry to travel from one level to another, so make sure to collect as many Wind spheres as you can. Lastly, the relics are the main objective and upon discovery (or reassembly, by case) they can be examined in-depth and provide a backstory into the struggle which lead to the Inverse’s current state. The lore within InnerSpace is thus, surprisingly complex.

I’ve had sufficient proof to confirm that the dev team took an active interest in creating a unique world which could be even considered original. Gameplay-wise, you may be familiar with its mechanics already and it should still not deter you from giving InnerSpace a much deserved chance to unravel its tale. Just make sure you use a controller and take some time to practice flight in the game’s many tight spaces. There are several “stop and stare” places that offer some brief moments of respite, yet you’ll still be constantly on the move more often than not. The Inverse awaits you. Fly high before taking a nosedive.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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