Surrealist dreamscapes have become familiar territory for games in recent years. Whether finely crafted or clumsily cobbled together, they almost always offer something worth appreciating, be that inventive visual design or unique storytelling. This sentiment stays true with The Inner Friend, a fleeting, thought-provoking experience that overflows with inventive ideas yet sadly struggles to piece them together in a coherent, compelling way.
The Inner Friend’s story revolves around childhood trauma, presenting each level as a collage of abstract fears and troubled memories made manifest. Guided by a shadow, your purpose in each of these fevered daydreams is to exorcise and overcome that which burdens you while gathering artefacts to help piece together your past.
Schools, hospitals, hairdressers and art galleries all become twisted in your recollection, providing each level it’s own distinct look and feel. However, the inconsistent visual design seems constantly at odds with the ideas behind these worlds. While at times striking in its strangeness, The Inner Friend suffers from dull environments and derivative creature concepts. Poor level design diminishes the dreamlike quality of these levels with each feeling linear to the point of predictability while the creatures that intermittently stalk you through them are similarly uninspired.
Fungus-infested monstrosities and shadow-shrouded beasts that feel shamelessly stolen from The Last of Us and Sea of Solitude respectively pose little threat or terror, at times even adding some unintentional humour into the mix. One creature I affectionally dubbed Gary Grape, a scissor-wielding humanoid with a cluster of blue balls for a head, managed to amuse and unsettle me in equal measure. In fact, Gary seems to embody The Inner Friend’s conflicted tone; it’s often both disturbing and absurd, sincere and silly. The game’s oblique storytelling, immersive audio and occasionally inspired art design creates a rich, arresting atmosphere yet this is regularly dispelled by clumsy game design.
While this aversion to some of The Inner Friend’s aesthetic quirks may be a more matter of personal taste, the game’s puzzle and platforming mechanics are inherently clunky. Like it’s visual design, much of The Inner Friend’s gameplay consists of interesting ideas executed poorly. Each level consists of a series of simplistic puzzles which have you timing your movements between platforms and obstacles, memorizing sequences and moving objects.
Although the narrative context of these puzzles helps to make them feel unique, the rudimentary mechanics behind them lack both originality and challenge. Floaty, unwieldy controls do little to help, only adding a sense of frustration as you wrestle to perform a simple manoeuvre. Ultimately, gameplay seems like an afterthought to the narrative arc at the core of The Inner Friend, resulting in a game that is more enjoyable to experience than play.
Thankfully this narrative helps redeem some of the game’s shortcomings. Told solely through imagery and symbolism, each new memory explored and artefact gained fleshes out the minimalist story, posing new questions and offering new interpretations at each turn. While this intentionally ambiguous brand of storytelling can result in a lack of resolution, The Inner Friend doesn’t disappoint in this regard, offering a poignant and thought-provoking conclusion to your 2-hour journey which sheds new light on the events that precede it.
The Inner Friend struggles to make order of its disparate ideas. The intrigue of its abstract story carries it through to a worthwhile ending but the journey there is fraught with inconsistent art design, clunky controls and uninspired gameplay.
The Inner Friend PS4 Review
Overall - Good - 6/10
The Inner Friend’s engrossing atmosphere and intriguing narrative struggle under the shortcomings of its inconsistent visual design and uninspired gameplay.
- An intriguing story with a poignant ending.
- Occasionally inspired visual design.
- Excellent audio that creates an immersive atmosphere.
- Inconsistent visuals, derivative creature concepts and poor level design consistently spoil the atmosphere.
- Clunky controls and simplistic puzzles make for unengaging gameplay.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.