Story-driven indie games with compelling narratives are always intriguing. In Between combines gravity-based puzzles with the tale of a man on his death bed who's reliving memories but is it worth the hospital bill or are you better off pulling the plug?
As you can already tell, In Between is quite an interesting game. You basically play it by using the left stick to move and the right stick to change gravity in any of four directions. The goal of each stage is to reach the exit while avoiding all sorts of spiky hazards. As you play, you'll witness a handful of story sequences between stages and hear a narrator ramble on during gameplay about his past, philosophical matters, and his take on famous quotes. The structure of the story follows the five stages of grief and it manages to stay captivating throughout. That is, if you care about narratives in your games. Thankfully, the deep-voiced narrator manages to remain both gripping and subtle so it's difficult not to get immersed in the storytelling. That being said, the gameplay and story don't naturally go together. You could theorize that the spikes represent something or other but what it really boils down to is that you simultaneously play a game and listen to a story.
Although the graphics are unique with attractive hand-drawn characters and environments, In Between doesn't retain its visual appeal for long. For such an emotional journey, I found the animation to be rather bland and mechanical. My biggest beef with the presentation is that the stages generally all look the same. Even with the odd moving part, they're boring to the point where you'll be dying to see something new by the end of the campaign. Of course, the story sequences take place in different environments but the fact that you can't tell one stage from the other comes across as lazy. On a positive note, the atmospheric music and sound effects provide a gentle and mysterious ambience to it all. In the end, the audio is great but In Between falls short when it comes to its visuals.
In Between's campaign manages to stay engaging from start to finish because many distinct mechanics gradually enter the mix. You start by simply avoiding spikes but you'll eventually find yourself moving boxes, dealing with preset gravity fields, sliding massive obstacles, and pressing buttons with various effects. On top of that, some sections feature completely new dynamics such as forcing you to stay out of the dark or control two characters at once. It's fantastic to be able to experience all sorts of mind-bending puzzle mechanics in one game. The only problem is that you can easily complete the entire thing in one sitting. Depending on how efficient you are, the whole campaign could take you anywhere from one to three hours which simply isn't enough content for the average gamer.
Even with the diverse array of mechanics, the puzzles are regularly irritating to deal with. Just touching the side of a spike will end your life and when you've already been playing a stage for a few minutes and have to start again because of such a minor mistake, it's hard not to get at least a little mad. Don't get me wrong, this is not a very difficult game. In fact, with just a little bit of experimenting, every puzzle is easy to overcome. It's just the sensitive nature of death and the being forced to replay large sections that make it a frustrating endeavor. Is it a metaphor for real life? No, it's just bad game design. Luckily, you don't have to play every stage because you can skip a few if you find them to be too challenging. You can always go back and finish them later, too.
In Between is definitely a solid effort at providing players with a riveting story. Those just looking to get lost in an immersive narrative will definitely find something to love, but its gameplay suffers from far too many issues for me to widely recommend it.
- + Evocative narrative and voice work
- + Interesting dynamics slowly get introduced that keep the gameplay fresh
- + The ability to skip puzzles is handy
- - Repetitive stage visuals get stale quick
- - Puzzles are frequently more annoying than they are enjoyable
- - You can do everything in one sitting