I’m Lost Without You
HIGH Finally getting past that werewolf thing.
LOW The memory game could have been organized a little better.
WTF That ending image is just… huh.
When dealing with games taking place entirely within the realm of metaphor, it’s easy to wind up misinterpreting plot. While I hope that I correctly grasp what was trying to be shared, there’s no study guide to check and each player is free to apply their own frame of reference. Still, when I find a game as affecting as The Inner Friend, I hope that I’m not projecting depth where none exists.
The Inner Friend opens with a stark image — an old, naked man lies on a bare mattress in a dilapidated room. He tosses and turns, his sleep troubled by nightmares. The player is then transported through his “face” — a blinding white void — and into his subconscious, where the bulk of play takes place.
As an artistic 3D puzzle-platformer that operates without dialogue of any kind, players will spend The Inner Friend journeying through the old man’s troubled childhood memories, getting glimpses of the traumatic incidents that shattered the man’s psyche and left him in the pathetic form we see at the outset.
Each level brings players to a completely different location and teases them with imagery that implies more than it reveals — a school full of teachers single out and humiliating students. A museum full of salacious images and watchful eyes that freeze the player if they catch them peeking. A hospital where a child running from combative parents faces the inevitable failure of the human body. It’s a lot of rough stuff for a child to experience, especially with one thing coming right after another, and each section brings reason for the old man’s spirit to be represented as a shattered, hollow doll.
At first, The Inner Friend seems needlessly bleak, and little more than a cavalcade of small horrors suggesting that people can’t escape their past. There are simple environmental puzzles to solve and monsters to flee in chase sequences, but there’s never any relief. As each level ends, players return to a vision of the old man as a lonely teenager, locked away in a small room. Will nothing break through the gloom?
Then, as the story moves into its second half, something does. Suddenly the player isn’t merely running through memories anymore — they become partnered with an AI character and the experience is transformed. This shift makes The Inner Friend‘s message clear — how different might things have been if he hadn’t been so isolated? What if there been someone to lean on during his most harrowing moments?
The Inner Friend‘s graphics do a stellar job of realizing its world. Whether decaying cityscapes or pristine hallways, the nearly monochrome world is always remote and never lets the player feel comfortable for a moment, even in what should be safe spaces.
Especially impressive is the depiction of memory itself as an endless void filled with lit rooms containing pieces of a life. The player tumbles through it, attempting to freefall towards the shaft of light that represents a memory they want to hold on to. Every bit of the worldbuilding is expertly used to reinforce feelings of isolation. It’s a fantastic accomplishment in environmental storytelling.
I zipped through The Inner Friend in under two hours, but I’d imagine it could be completed even more quickly — I wasn’t good at the chase scenes, and kept getting kicked back to checkpoints. However, even with a short running time, this beautiful story about loss, trauma, and finding the strength to rebuild oneself after falling to pieces is a beautiful experience. It’s stunning, in a broken, decayed way, and I’d recommend it to nearly anyone who’s willing to take a chance on a game built around storytelling without words.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by PLAYMIND and published by indienova. It is currently available on PC, XBO and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 2 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game was rated T by the ESRB, and it contains Blood, Violence, and Partial Nudity. This is a game about childhood trauma, and I could see it being used as a teaching and therapy tool for younger children – but not without close adult supervision. There’s some really intense imagery here, and while older teens should be able to play it without any trouble, younger teens should be careful.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered few difficulties. Some scenes which involve chases and hiding are easier with audio cues, but checkpoints are dropped frequently, and anyone should be able to eventually muddle through with just the video elements. There is no dialogue.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.