One of the most distressing moments in cinema history is the final act of 2001: A Space Odyssey. We travel, in first-person view, down an infinite tunnel of seething light. We are following our protagonist, Dave, and the implication is that he is being thrown beyond the realm of mortal knowledge. This is a transformative moment, and it’s dizzying, and after the first few moments we, as viewers, come to realize that this is a goddamn nightmare. It’s beyond mortal knowledge because we’re not meant to know. This experience, as sublime as it is, is not meant for us because we’re not equipped for it.
This was also my experience with Innerspace.
Much like Dave in 2001, I found my experience to be rapturous. Innerspace has you flying around a strange, beautiful world that evokes a deep, complex history. You’re a little robotic helper for a weird pseudo-boat creature that’s trying to reconstruct the history of this world. There are orbs everywhere, and there are doors, and there are creatures from some sort of archetypal Time Before Your Time, and all of these things vaguely cohere into some kind of narrative about the history of this place that you’ve only experienced for a moment. There’s story to be worked through (which my editor didn’t care for), but my time with the game wasn’t focused on that. I cared about the flying.
Innerspace gets flying right. They did the damn thing. You have just enough control to feel the wind whizzing by your face when you skip across the stone surface of a megamonolith, and it’s just arcadey enough that you don’t worry about smashing into that wall when you make a miscalculation. It takes some getting used to, but the lack of fuel, hit points, or any of the other markers of traditional flying mechanics is a welcome absence. Innerspace wants you to feel comfortable flying, and it doesn’t try to get in your way.
It also wants you to get used to diving. The little plane creature that you embody is at home in the sea as much as the air, and you can seamlessly drop into the sea from your flight path anytime you want. Then, when you’re beneath the waves, you can soar up toward the surface and engage your flight ability. It’s like being a dolphin that suddenly grows wings at the apex of its leap, and it feels amazing.
So far, we’re in the “beautiful blinding colors” part of the 2001 analogy. These are all the things I was wowed by; these are the things that kept me playing for the few hours that I was able to stick with Innerspace.
I say “able” because Innerspace is doing a very specific kind of thing with its visuals. While I’m not sure exactly what’s happening, it feels like the world is projected on the inside of a sphere, or maybe that the camera has some kind of fish eye effect placed on it. Whatever the reason, the effect is that the world seems to pinch and expand at various places in front of you. The things you are flying into and out of warp, wax and wane in relation to where you’re looking and what you’re doing. It is otherworldly, and it does an amazing job at conveying the alien nature of this world that we are rocketing through.
It also does a great job of making me motion sick. Dizzy, headache, unhappy for an hour afterward: that kind of motion sick. The visual effect is so strong that my wife, who watched over my shoulder while I played for about five minutes, also got dizzy. It wrecked me. I’m Dave, and I’m hurtling through the corridor of a million colors and shapes, and I’m hurling my guts out not due to alien knowledge but to the terrible evil that is the human vestibular system.
Innerspace has all of the things I like in a game. It has an evocative plot, some well-executed flying and diving mechanics, and some tricky puzzles that genuinely require paying attention to the game world around you. All of this is, sadly, perched on top of a visual mode that made the game literally unplayable for me. A glorious few hours was all I could manage, but maybe you have the fortitude of eye and body to make it through the entire experience. I wish that I could.
Innerspace was developed by PolyKnight Games and published by Aspyr. Our review is based on the PC version. It’s also available for PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One and Mac.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.