I haven’t had a hair cut in years, and after playing The Inner Friend, I don’t plan on rectifying that anytime soon. Both wordlessly moving and terrifying, it’s an experience I’m not likely to forget anytime soon, though it’s all over a bit too soon.
We follow a mysterious Shadow as they relive numerous childhood experiences, all of which appear to have left quite the mark on the mental well-being of the person in question. I’ll not detail the scenarios too much – that would rob some of the mystery and intrigue – but I think it’ll be safe to say that we can all relate to some of the messaging going on here. It’s a very personal story of the struggles that this person had growing up, and how they can hurt and scar without others even really noticing, or seemingly caring.
All of these themes are presented in an abstract way, yet somehow managing to feel accurate to how a child’s imagination can get the better of them; There’s no monster under the bed, but what if there is? How that would manifest in your head, slowly getting worse and worse until you’ve convinced yourself that not only is there a monster, but it’s most definitely the worst monster ever. This is pretty much the feeling I had throughout Inner Friend, and it’s all the more effective for it.
Starting each chapter in a rendition of their childhood bedroom, we escape through a crack in the wall before free falling into an area filled with dozens of boxes and abstract shapes. Landing on one allows us to run around it, and we need to find the portal to the next memory. From here, the individual stages come into play. The Inner Friend is a 3rd person puzzle/adventure, so in order to proceed we need to solve environmental puzzles, do a bit of platforming and even some stealth here and there. We only have a jump and a context sensitive interact button to worry about, so it’s more a case of following the level and stopping occasionally to unlock the way to progress.
I did find the act of moving our protagonist a little awkward mind. I’m not sure if this is supposed to play into the theme of being a scared child, but when trying to change direction they’ll occasionally walk the wrong way in a bid to turn around; unlike most 3rd person titles, where a flick of the opposite direction sees them instant face the other way, here they more naturally move, but this does mean that trying to line up a jump or move delicately is quite hard. A stealth section involving hiding behind pillars from a beam of light felt a bit awkward to control accurately, for example.
Despite there being no words throughout, the story is still well told, with plenty of environmental storytelling and exposition. No matter where we are, there’s a constant feeling of dread and fear that comes across superbly; I actually got chills during one sequence that truly creeped me out. The atmosphere is excellently crafted, and I could absolutely appreciate the fear of the child in these situations.
There is some hope in all this though. Scattered through the levels are collectables that represent an item from the child’s bedroom; something for them to cling on to and remember fonder memories. When we return to the room we can place each item back where it belongs, brightening up the room and helping them get past the bad memories. Some of these will be found by progressing through the story, though we’re encouraged to explore to find the majority.
Which is good, because The Inner Friend is a short experience. The end credits rolled in just over an hour and a half for me. It does afford the game a tight, focused feel, but outside of going back and collecting the extra trinkets, there’s not really much replay value. It’ll definitely be one to come back to down the road, but in the short term I can’t see it being played more than once before being moved on. That’s not the point perhaps, but it bears mentioning if you’re looking for something to last you a little while.
The Inner Friend is creepy, abstract, touching, and something that will get under your skin. There’s a story here that is relatable, yet presented in a way that captures the exaggerated-ness of a child’s imagination. Movement is a little fiddly, and it’s all over quickly, but the experience is still one that will stick with us for some time yet.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.