Inmost review: a snapshot of what video games can be

Sometimes my brother and I get into a debate about what games can and can’t be. In his defense, he’s a jaded former programmer who as of late has veered toward the realm of board games. In his mind, games are the enjoyment of systems and mechanics, and up to a point he’s right – that interactivity and learning is a huge part of it. But I posit that they can be so much more than that if you can get past the boundaries of classification. “I don’t play games for the stories,” he’ll often say, which is his way of ending said conversation. Games like Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch have that interactivity, they just don’t push mastery of a system on you. To which he’ll say – that’s not a game, it’s an interactive story.

After finishing Inmost, I want my brother to play it. It feels like the amalgamation of our two ideologies melded into something we can both appreciate. It tells its story beautifully because the plot is very much intertwined with its systems. The moment when one of the protagonists tussled with and escaped from a creepy masked horror was when I realized that I wasn’t passively being given plot points, nor was I mindlessly running away. It was a marriage of messaging and mechanics.

In a lot of ways, Inmost reminds me of Jordan Mechner’s original Prince of Persia. It wordlessly and deftly has you controlling the hero, and it tells its story within its gameplay moments in a very connected way. There are no levels, no dialog and no obvious ‘this is a game’ moments from beginning to end. Inmost is a little more complicated than that, but it only talks when there’s something important to say, and to drive it home, it does so while you’re controlling your avatar. Everything you do serves two masters; the mechanics and the story. To an ardent gamer, there are obvious moments when you realize the game is having you solve a puzzle or enter a combat situation, but it doesn’t take you out of the experience because it serves other purposes, too.

Inmost does a good job of instilling not only a desire to explore its haunting world, but also to experiment within it. There are checkpoints should you fail, but you’re never set so far back that you lose the urge to continue. This, too, is part of its process, helping you discover your boundaries and how far you can push them. The “A-ha!” moments still feel good, even if you’ve tried your hand at a section a dozen times. That’s not to say anything in Inmost is punishing, because at the end of the day it follows a logic that keeps you invested in what you are doing.

Inmost does a fantastic job of respecting your time, not just in keeping you empowered in the moment, but by telling its story in a succinct manner. I saw its conclusion in roughly four or five hours because of my inherent need to be thorough (there are baubles to collect, although they are subtly added), and I felt satisfied the whole way through. There are three interweaving stories told through three different protagonists; this keeps the story fresh and the gameplay varied, never dwelling on any idea or scene for longer than needed. It is a perfect length – neither so short that I was yearning for more nor too long that I would have wanted to hurry to the end.

I want my brother to play Inmost because it will scratch his itch for engaging gameplay, yet it also has a story that’s genuinely interesting and worth following with more than perfunctory attention. In the press materials it says you’ll want to play the game in one sitting, which at first I scoffed at, but in the end I came close to doing exactly that, lapping it up in a couple of intense sessions. Inmost will stick with me for a very long time: not only because it’s very good, but because it’s a great snapshot of what games can be.

Inmost was developed by Hidden Layer Games and published by Chucklefish, and it’s available on PC, Switch and Apple Arcade. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Inmost was provided by Honest PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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