A low-key Kickstarter success, InnerSpace bagged itself just shy of $30k back in 2014 and has since followed a straightforward path – ironically, given the game – to release. On paper, the game is everything it promised to be: a world of inverted physics where gravity pulls out from the centre; full of exploration and intrigue; and with a simplified flight model that allows you to ‘sky-drift,’ because why not.
While I am impressed with PolyKnight Games’ efforts and ability to make what it actually set out to make – if you’ve paid attention you won’t be surprised how often a Kickstarter project lands some way away from what it was intended to be – there’s one big issue with InnerSpace holding it back from greatness. I’ve built up the drama here, but the simple fact is: it’s just not a great game.
You play as the Cartographer – a sentient flying machine (also capable of sub-aquatic exploration) tasked with finding out the history of the inverted world you’re inhabiting. You do so by flying both above ground and underwater, exploring the world around you, and by unlocking the secrets of the past.
Said past involves ancients, demigods, relics, all the usual stuff, and provides InnerSpace with a narrative backbone throughout. I’m unlikely to talk more about this narrative, however, as it manages to be both slight and unrelenting at the same time, forcing you to skip through reams of irrelevant text that adds very little to the experience.
InnerSpace’s obvious comparisons stand out from the get go – a hint of Journey, a sprinkle of Gone Home, a ladling of Proteus, and PolyKnight doesn’t shy away from the fact. One influence that strikes me right in the nostalgia gland, for I am old, is the original Descent. It’s not just the full sphere of movement – it’s how disorientating the whole experience quickly becomes, and how you have to quickly polish up your landmark-recognising skills. It manages to make something that starts out as relaxing quickly an exercise in frustration as you fail, once again, to get your bearings.
Persistence in navigation pays off, of course, and when you do hit a groove InnerSpace manages to tickle the part of your brain that craves relaxation and simple experiences. This doesn’t last, sadly, but the mere fact that it offers this kind of prosaic feeling to begin with is definitely going to tempt in some players. Sometimes you just want to relax, you know?
Then again, one way I can’t help but feel InnerSpace lets me down is how you just don’t get a sense of flight. Rather than your classic whooshing and swooping, commonly associated with flying, it’s instead more a point-and-turn experience. Aim the centre of the screen at a thing, maybe rotate a bit to avoid obstacles, Collect The Thing, rinse and repeat. There’s your InnerSpace experience boiled down, with the odd switch-throwing section or encounter with a demigod thrown in.
It’s all just a bit of a vague experience, in more ways than one. The narrative, as mentioned, is forgettable; exploration flits between relaxing and frustrating in mere seconds; there’s little in the way of challenge to dig its claws into you, nor is there a strong sense of progression even with upgradeable abilities and so on; and it just... oh god, I’m going to write it aren’t I... it’s all just a bit ‘meh.’
I am so sorry for putting that in a review, but it really is the overwhelming feeling I came away from InnerSpace with. It left me with nothing pulling with any particular strength towards brilliant or bad – it’s just something that’s there, that I played, and that I will likely forget as the months and years pass. Hopefully InnerSpace ends up being a jumping off point for PolyKnight, though, as there’s the skeleton of something good here.
InnerSpace isn’t terrible. Nor is it transcendent. But after playing for even just an hour you’ll be bored, disoriented – or both. I won’t deny the game’s ability to relax you, and its general aesthetic is pleasant. But while it wears its Journey et al influences on its sleeve, InnerSpace is nowhere near the same level as those ambient classics.