REVIEW / In Between (PC)

 

After launching a successful demo, the independent game studio Gently Mad has released In Between, their 2D puzzle platform game. In Between is a hand painted, beautifully crafted game that follows a man during the final stages of his life. More than a simple puzzler, this is a carefully crafted study of a man coming to terms with his imminent death.

 

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Plot

After losing his office job after being diagnosed, the protagonist goes through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as he comes to terms with his illness. With only weeks to live, he looks back on his life as he goes through the five stages of grief, confronting his death and questioning the meaning of life. The five stages of grief are illustrated through a series of puzzles and obstacles that must be crossed with increasing difficulty. Games that focus on story over gameplay are always much better for it, in my opinion; the incredible thing about In Between is how it takes a serious subject and provides an insightful gaming experience.

 

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Gameplay

In Between is very unique in that it is more of an obstacle course than an average 2D Platformer. The game is engaging and distinctive, allowing the player to manipulate gravity as well as objects in the environment; obstacles are integrated into the gameplay as physical representations of his personal struggles. To pass each level, the player must jump from walls and figure out how to use whatever the environment provides while avoiding traps and other threats. Players only need to pass a certain number of levels before moving to the next stage of grief, but as they get more difficult skipping a level may not always help.

The obstacles are illustrative of each stage of grief. For example, in denial there are black clouds that follow the protagonist and will swallow and consume him if they catch up. Representing fear, the only way to overcome the obstacle is by facing it, literally. This was one of the more frustrating stages, as it was often time sensitive while having the same obstacles as other stages. The threats in the stages of grief are wildly different, but they do not seem to be set up to be more difficult than the other. Meanwhile there are obstacles integrated into each level that are positioned in ways that make it difficult to use the same tactics multiple times. This forces players to think creatively not only for each stage, but each level within the stages.

 

 

This game can be more than a little frustrating at many points, even for people who are used to platformers. However. In Between still manages to stay engaging because it relies on strategy and problem solving in creative ways. Many of the levels involve discerning correct timing and may take longer, while others are time sensitive and need to be passed as quickly as possible.

Another refreshing aspect of In Between is that there are no points where the game is unplayable. Many games feature lengthy cut scenes where the user will be sitting and watching things happen rather than participating. However, this game stays interactive throughout its entirety, even when transitioning to the next stage. This keeps players fully connected to the story and the protagonist.

 

 

Design

One of the strongest appeals of this game is the unique, hand-painted aesthetic. With an almost surrealistic look, the animation is very fluid and the natural color palette fits the mood of the game perfectly. The animation is also beautifully done, very subtle and somewhat eerie, particularly the obstacles such as the ball of flame in anger or the spheres of light in depression.

The sound and music in the game is another feature worth mentioning. The sound design for obstacles as well as the music blend with the environment and fit the atmosphere of the game very well. Even the sound of breaking glass players may find themselves hearing quite often has a distinct originality to it. The music does a great job of fitting the mood of the game, managing to stay mellow but at the same time reflecting the protagonist at each stage of grief.

 

 

Verdict

The somber subject matter of In Between should not deter people who are looking for a challenging experience. Players will find themselves engrossed in the story, which is an unusual treat for a Platform game. There really aren’t many negative aspects to In Between, though it will require tremendous patience.

 

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