Right from the off, InnerSpace has a particularly mysterious and alluring quality to it. Billed as an exploration-flying game, this title is the latest offering from Dallas-based studio PolyKnight Games and it is, without question, its most ambitious game to date. InnerSpace aims to take you on a journey, ultimately encouraging you to take as much or as little from the game as you want to. Will you want to throw yourself headfirst into its worlds, then? Let’s find out.
The game takes you on a seemingly isolated adventure; you’ll be travelling (almost) alone through a world where the physics are inverted, exploring a number of strange, foreign planets that are inside-out. Each planet is made up of once-inhabited islands surrounded by water, where gravity pulls outwards from the centre and little hints of former life can be seen. The whole idea feels rather majestic and the aesthetic styling of the game supports this perfectly; the worlds really do feel like they’re wondrous places.
The point to all this, aside from passive exploration, is to aid a space archaeologist in recovering the memories of this forgotten world. You’ll be collecting relics in your travels that provide background information and lore for those who want to delve deeper into the story, as well as meeting, and freeing, demigods who are still lingering in the various settings you’ll uncover.
To do all of this, you’ll be flying around as various ‘airframes’, or planes; while you only start off with the one, you’ll soon have several others in your collection with differing attributes. Flying is controlled mostly with the two control sticks; your left stick will turn you left and right or up and down on an inverted axis, while the right stick controls your flight speed and tilt angle.
Despite an entire tutorial being present to teach you the basics of flying, it isn’t until we get stuck into the main game that we really find our footing with it. The two-stick combination makes you feel like you really are flying a plane and, when you pull off awesome manoeuvres, it feels great. Unfortunately, the controls can be really tricky to use, and a lack of the option to simply hover in the air can result in some extremely frustrating moments where you’ll just whizz by your intended location target.
These problems with flying around extend further. While the game has a beautiful art-style throughout, it can be incredibly easy to crash into scenery or get stuck on things because it can be hard to differentiate between different surface textures. Each world also has its own theme in terms of how it looks, and while this is wonderful for the sake of the story, it also means that it can be too easy to get lost within them. It's hard to know where exactly in the world you are when a lot of it looks the same, and if you mess up your flying a little, you’ll end up zooming away and completely losing track of where you were.
Sadly, it's also all too easy to get lost within your story missions. Talking to the archaeologist can sometimes provide you with helpful hints as to where your next steps might be, but they never explain how to actually pull things off and, as you progress, he stops flying to new worlds with you, leaving you completely on your own. The exploring element always remains interesting – as does discovering the relics and taking them back for analysis – but progressing the story is something that you’ll really want to do, and it is so frustrating when you are entirely at a loss as to what needs to happen next.
For instance, one fantastic plot moment sees us chasing flocks of birds around one of the worlds, heavily testing our flight ability. After some admittedly hopeful guesswork, we figured out what had to be done to progress and the whole thing felt really fun. On the flip side to this, some tasks need were so nebulous in their solution (such as one case where we have to blast around certain spots to make something else appear) that it all feels utterly hopeless. Cases like this one give no indication whatsoever that this might be something to even attempt, never mind actually being something that could progress the plot.
These issues with the gameplay are such a shame, as the entire setting, theory and aesthetic of the game are so full of wonder. You’ll really want to explore the worlds and, whenever you do finally find your way, you’ll be happy that you persisted; the game’s story-telling and majestic feel are easily its strongest points. It's just let down by a lack of clarity in numerous areas; the mysterious exploration is all well and good but you’ll eventually miss having a true purpose for your actions if you can’t progress the story too.
InnerSpace is a really intriguing title that we wish we didn’t want to ever put down; the game’s worlds give such a strong sense of amazement that you will want to spend every second flying through them. Unfortunately, you’ll likely be left too frustrated by the sometimes near-impossible-to-find story progression tasks to keep going. We really want to love this game, and we very nearly did, but we just can’t quite manage it.