In InnerSpace, Dennis Quaid plays Lt. Tuck Pendleton who volunteers for a revolutionary science experiment that involves miniaturizing a human inside a manned submersible pod and injecting them into a rat for a unique biological perspective. As a result of violent corporate espionage, Quaid finds himself implanted into Martin Short instead, which leads to lots of wacky hijinks and an opportunity to reconcile with his estranged wife.
Wait. No, sorry. Wrong InnerSpace.
Developed by PolyKnight Games, InnerSpace is an exploratory adventure game that puts you in control of a survey drone designed to trace the hidden history of a long-dead civilization. Designed for an audience that holds quiet, exploratory games like Gone Home and Journey in high regard, InnerSpace offers the freedom to explore unique worlds free from the annoyances of aggressive enemies, ticking clocks, and other invasive mechanics.
Your adventure takes place entirely from the perspective of the Cartographer (affectionately nicknamed “Cart”), a repurposed drone built from ancient technology by an explorer called the Archaeologist. The Archaeologist guides your journey through the Inverse, a collective of planets that once formed a technologically advanced civilization powered by Wind, a Force-like power that allowed it to thrive for years. The Inverse ultimately collapsed when Wind started to disappear, leaving behind a panicked populace that struggled to harvest and replicate Wind energy to keep themselves alive. Now empty and lifeless, the Inverse waits to be explored. The planets that make up the Inverse are unique because civilization was built from the inside, which makes physically impossible sights, like oceans taking up entire ceilings, a strange reality. An early encounter with a demigod, a powerful being made from vast amounts of Wind, reveals that the player’s mission is not so much an opportunity to restore the Inverse but rather catalog it’s history and culture in order to save their memory from obscurity.
How does this translate to gameplay? As Cart, you’ll fly across the “sky,” underneath oceans, and through abandoned structures to hunt down relics, activate complex machinery, and open portals to other planets in the Inverse. Interaction is largely performed by flying into giant levers, breakable walls, and loose tethers to open up new pathways and puzzle elements. InnerSpace doesn’t provide much feedback with what you’re supposed to be doing at any given time. With the exception of a few subtle hints from the Archaeologist, it’s your job to figure out what needs to be done by wandering around the area and interacting with different elements. Even with the Archaeologist’s vague clues, moving forward is confusing and tedious. I grew more and more frustrated by the lack of progression as I passed over the same pool of water, the same jutting rocky outcrop, the same alien tower times on end without so much as an objective marker or indication that I was going the right way or doing the right thing. Solutions would eventually reveal themselves by way of different camera angles and lucky glimpses from the corner of my eye.
InnerSpace offers an interesting premise bolstered by a relaxing, sensory experience that brought to mind the visuals and the ambient soundtrack from Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. No matter how much I tried, though, I just couldn’t fully invest myself in the game because of the problems I had with the flight and camera controls. The arcade-like feel of Cart’s flight systems means that they are easily accessible to those with little experience with flying games. That said, I wish PolyKnight made better use of the JoyCon layouts. No matter how hard I tried, it always felt like I was fighting with Cart to stay mobile in a manner that I deemed comfortable. My issues with flight directly contributed to another annoyance: the camera. It’s so easy to get disoriented (almost nauseatingly so) with InnerSpace because of how it reacts to Cart colliding with the environment. Instead of blowing up and getting a game over whenever you hit something, Cart harmlessly bounces off the object, ground, or tunnel wall it comes in contact with. Out in the open, this isn’t so much a problem because the large, empty space gives the camera enough time to reorient itself behind the drone. It’s whenever you find yourself in a confined space that this becomes a serious problem. If you’re in a close quarters tunnel and hit the wall, then Cart bounces around like a pinball onto every surface in your immediate vicinity. As a result, the camera has an even harder time keeping up as you bounce from one wall to another. To make things worse, the constant camera adjustments and Cart’s erratic collision effects severely impact the game’s framerate, making an already aggravating experience even worse.
The way I see it, InnerSpace was designed to be a soothing and relaxing adventure that involves flying around planets and taking in some truly breathtaking sights. And for the most part, it does a pretty decent job of following through with that premise should you find yourself in the more open spaces in each world. Though the idea of flying inside a spherical globe is cool, I’ve come to appreciate just how valuable a horizon is for collecting my navigational bearings (maps can sometimes be very confusing to look at). The lack of clear and defined objectives combined with a novel, yet disorienting, sense of place does make the adventure a little more confusing than it needs to be at times. When the flight controls, camera issues, and framerate drops become a problem (and they will), they are loudly disruptive to the meditative experience InnerSpace tries to cultivate.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.