Review | In Between

In Between is the new release from Gentlymad and published by Headup Games. In it you explore the mind and emotions of a dying man. Normally, I don’t enjoy a game with that sort of premise as I like games to have hope in them, and this doesn’t look like it’s going to have a happy ending. Nevertheless, I decided to have a go to challenge my initial reaction and to see what this game was like.

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One thing I must say is that In Between looks amazing. The visuals have been made entirely by hand and it adds a unique style. Even the opening credits are integrated into the background, appearing and disappearing at set points, sometimes when the background itself references them. The styles vary wildly from one location to the next as you travel through the main character’s memories and emotions. Sometimes he’s walking down a street or into a house, other times he’s walking through a clockwork area with gears that rotate as he moves.

As I said, the story of In Between is of a man reliving his life as he slowly dies of a terminal disease. This is made immediately apparent by the fact that he starts in hospital in a wheelchair, which you can control, then when you move to the entrance and leave the hospital he is suddenly walking. When you reach the first main gameplay area he suddenly gets a scarf, coat and backpack. This is all accompanied by voiced narration as he recalls events from his life.

Well this is going to be a game full of joy and happiness!
Well this is going to be a game full of joy and happiness!

The main meat of the game though is in its puzzle levels. If you’ve played VVVVVV then you should immediately feel right at home. The main character can walk left or right, but he can’t jump. Instead he can rise up to the ceiling and walk upside down, as in VVVVVV, and he can also move to the left or right walls and walk up and down them. Walking is controlled with the left stick, and jumping to walls is controlled with the right stick. It can take some getting used to, as you end up trying to walk and jumping to a different wall or trying to use both sticks at once.

Oh, and there are spikes. Lots and lots of spikes. One touch of the spikes means you have to start the level again, so battling through a particularly difficult section to die right at the end can get incredibly frustrating. There are also platforms and blocks that move when you do – some when walking, others when jumping – that have to be manipulated to get to the position you need them to be in so you can bounce off them in relative safety.Post

Look out above!
Look out above!

Even in the puzzle levels there are lots of story elements, as parts of the background will peel away to show some item or event of relevance, again with commentary. The levels seem to reflect the emotions the main character is feeling and his atttempts to cope with them. If you die for any reason – spikes, crushed by a trap, the screen shatters into tiny shards and rebuilds itself in its initial state.  It kind of fits with the whole emotional struggle theme

The same shattering effect is also used in the story sections, as when you walk past other people they will shatter – one early example is a hotdog seller who shatters and rebuilds as a homeless man. It’s a really neat effect and serves to illustrate the way the main character is remembering things versus how they are now.

An old childhood memory, with ominous darkness.
An old childhood memory, with ominous darkness.

As you progress through the story and the levels, new obstacles and elements are added to reflect what is happening. For example, in the screenshot above, the main character is remembering an encounter with his mother. Behind him is a wall of darkness which he is only able to pass with a flashlight that his mother gives him. The next few puzzle levels accordingly have walls of darkness that follow you as you walk away from them and retreat as you walk to them. This adds a bit of urgency and another puzzle element to manage as you have to move slowly enough so that the darkness in front of you retreats, but also not so slow that the darkness behind engulfs you.

The description for the game promises 60 challenging levels. I must admit, I have only played through the first few, but it looks like the sort of game that would appeal to the sort of person who has the patience and doesn’t mind that they will fail many times before they succeed. I’m more interested in the story. Even though I don’t really enjoy this kind of story I like how it’s being told and I would like to see where it goes to. The music and visuals really deliver an emotional experience that is worth seeing.

This looks bad.
This looks bad.

I don’t know if I’d say that I like this game in the same way that I like other games, but I am finding it compelling. Seeing this person’s journey as he slowly accepts his inevitable death and seeing his memories play out is very touching. I’m not too sure about the puzzle levels as I think they make things a bit too frustrating, but I would persevere at them. It’s definitely worth looking at if you like games like Braid and VVVVVV. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and cry in a corner.

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