Review: The Inner World08 Jan 2014 0
Been holding off on this review for a little while now. Now, that sounds like the kind of preface one would give just before launching into a discussion of some hyper-topical, politically controversial work of art—rest assured that's not the case with The Inner World. Which isn't to say it's not art (it very much is) or it's not political in some sense (again, it very much is, though in the sweetest way possible). Rather, this is just an admission that the game was first released way back in November of aught '13, and was a somewhat notoriously buggy port of a somewhat well-received PC point-and-click.
In the time since, a patch claiming to address the game's bugs was released. So, here we are, ready to issue... what is still a not-so-definitive opinion on a title which, all greatness aside, still has some major problems.
But, first, the titular world. The land of Asposia is, quite literally, an inner world, being a sort of giant cavern populated by wind-worshipping peoples and primarily lit, it seems, by adorable floating creatures called fosfos (which are just the cutest). You start off as Robert, assistant to/whipping boy of the chief (and only active) wind monk Conroy, who rules the people of Asposia as a sort of all-powerful theocrat, advising them to work hard and avoid the sins which might draw the ire of the fearsome wind gods.
Ah, yes, the wind gods. Who punish “sinners” by flying out of the wind fountains (which provide Asposia with air) and turning people to stone. Yeah. The Inner World gets that the best fables have, at their core, something just a bit terrifying. Littered across the cityscape of the game's opening are friendly-looking citizens who've been turned to stone in one of the wind gods' semi-frequent attacks. And, if you can guess that Conroy's position at the top; the theft of a seemingly magical, music-activated fosfos pendant by ardent anti-Conroy technologist Laura; and Robert's odd flute-nose (as in, his nose is a working woodwind instrument) are somehow related, then congrats, because they are. Good on you.
Truth be told, some of The Inner World's point vis-a-vis power and religion can be a little too nail-on-the-head at times (“What would Conroy do?” and so on), but most of the narrative tropes here are handled with such an odd slant that they, well, cease to be tropes, really. And it helps that the game does an excellent job of weaving its goals as a story into the point-and-click puzzling.
One fantastic example, indicative of the best of The Inner World's stumpers, involves naïve young Robert interacting with a Sin-O-Mat, a confessional-style booth which asks you to divulge your transgressions and then sacrifice a mint to the gods (again, not very subtle, but funny). Robert, having never been out in the world before, doesn't have any sins to satisfy the machine... unless he speaks to a certain scandalous character who will gladly supply him with something titillating.
There's more standard fare here, too, your classic point-and-click non-logic where you just end up combining items until something works for some goddamn reason, but overall The Inner World excels at using puzzles to reveal and reinforce character. Looking for the pendant thief Laura requires you to solve a puzzle which both illuminates her feelings towards Conroy and foreshadows the big first act twist. Getting through the deadly Root Forest necessitates talking at length with a gorf, a creature surprisingly friendly despite having a body that is 94% composed of lethal poisons. Even small puzzles, like Robert accidentally talking down the price for an item from a merchant through sheer ignorance and ineptitude, work as both gameplay and character building. Concerns about illogic fall away while playing The Inner World, because its is a world built from the ground-up on fancy and the best kind of nonsense.
The game's just beautiful, too, with a wonderful, jagged, hand-drawn style. Voice work is excellent and, apart from the odd linguistic turn here or accent there, it's difficult to tell this one hails from Deutschland. For every joke that goes on a bit too long or doesn't quite land, there are two that do, and Robert and Laura's interactions in particular are both hilarious and, hey, a little precious.
Sadly, you're going to have to append an “as far as I've seen” to all the previous praise. Might have telegraphed this a bit too much in the intro, but, yeah, The Inner World still seems to be buggy as hell. At least too buggy to recommend without some serious reservations. Post-patch and after a full restart of the game (wiping a save that was, apparently, corrupted beyond salvaging) and my adventure in Asposia is still being cut short by a game-ending crash. More worryingly, a crash at the exact same point as in my prior playthrough.
Now, it's difficult for me to know if this is an issue all, some, or none of you will also encounter (my device of choice is listed at the end of this review). But, at the same time, I can't recommend a title that has proven to be seriously flawed in the past (by the devs' own admission) and, even now, seems to be only spottily functional. “It might work,” or even “it will probably work,” just aren't good enough reassurances. This sort of problem is all the worse for happening in a point-and-click, the sort of game where you're supposed to investigate everything regardless of whether it's important, and where a glitch in some inconsequential area—more easily side-stepped in other genres—is likely to be encountered again and again while working on a puzzle.
A real shame, because even if The Inner World just had some niggling—but not game-breaking—technical issues, it'd be hard not to rave about it. Unless the game takes an unlikely turn towards crap in the third act, this is one that you'll want to binge on over a weekend. You just might want to binge on the PC version.
The game was played on a 3rd generation iPad for this review.