I really wanted to love InnerSpace, the debut title from PolyKnight Games.
With an art style reminiscent of Grow Home’s simplistic minimalism and a calming serenity inspired by the likes of Journey and ABZÛ, InnerSpace’s mysterious world looked worth diving into. Unfortunately, for as much work the game does towards building its worlds, it gives little reason to stay there.
InnerSpace is an atmospheric, zen-like experience. At its core, it is a game about exploration. Its narrative surrounds the Inverse, a collection of planets turned inside out. Long-since abandoned, it’s up to you to find out what happened. InnerSpace is a mostly solitary journey as you explore each of its distinct worlds. By exploring, you slowly stumble upon ruins that help fill in the gaps, running into the Gods of old as you awake them from the centuries-long slumber to help guide you on your adventure.
Much of InnerSpace‘s plot stays out of the way of the game’s main draw — exploration and puzzle solving. However, the few times the game does slow down to explain things, it’s always intriguing. Weaving together a narrative surrounding the legacies we leave behind, InnerSpace doesn’t as much ask you questions as it does ask you to ponder them yourself. Playing through the game can feel self-reflective at times, helped by the game’s beautifully ambient soundtrack.
There is little to do in InnerSpace outside of flying and swimming through its pristinely-created environments. Taking control of a submergible aircraft, you can easily jump between soaring through the air and swimming beneath the waves. The controls between the two are similar, making transitioning between the two effortless. However, thanks to pitch and roll controls being assigned to different sticks as opposed to one, it can make manoeuvring difficult – especially when trying to traverse some of the many tight corridors of the game’s ancient buildings.
However, once you’ve grown accustomed to the controls, exploring the worlds of the game can feel serene. Ranging in size, a unique colour scheme and geographical pattern define each world. With glittering oceans and soft waves that brush up against the plain textures of the world, InnerSpace makes great use of its limitations, making finding the beauty within a simple task. Engaging with the many puzzles of the game reveal new parts of the environment as well, as objects and buildings begin interacting with each other as the ancient worlds come to life.
It’s all the more unfortunate then that InnerSpace never allows you to breathe. Without the ability to hover, you are constantly on the move (outside of a few “perches” you can stop at throughout the map). Without any map to guide you, you’re forced to figure out your surroundings on your own. Thankfully, large identifying landmarks usually help you keep track of your orientation in the world. However, since progression is based upon solving grand, complicated puzzles, it can be all too easy to miss out on key information as you fly aimlessly in search for answers.
Perhaps even worse is the game’s lack of direction. When entering a new world, taking in the vastness of the new area quickly turns sour since the game expects you to find the first breadcrumb yourself, rather than offering any hints or inference on where to go. It can take quite a bit of deduction, trying to imagine how these ancient structures may have operated, which sounds intriguing enough in itself. However, since much of InnerSpace‘s mechanics are introduced without explanation, like the ability to flick switches or sever suspension lines, it feels like the game is deliberately withholding information rather than offering clever designs for you to solve for yourself.
InnerSpace is, without a doubt, an interesting experience. Despite its annoying inconveniences, it is a relaxing experience from start to finish. Its visuals are mesmerising, and its worlds are beautiful, but it’s difficult to accept it for what it is without comparing it to other, more successful games in the genre. Unable to capture the same, magical sensibilities that made Journey so beloved, InnerSpace simply seems like a game trying to be something it can’t. An altogether inoffensive game that unfortunately never takes the opportunity to say or do anything of meaning, leaving little reason to stay within its gorgeously crafted worlds.