Game Review: Innerspace Fails to Stay Aloft

Image courtesy PolyKnight Games Innerspace by PolyKnight Games is a game about peaceful exploration through a beautiful, mysterious world.  You play as a nameless cartographer – a sort of AI inhabiting an ancient machine built by your guide – the Archaeologist. The art style, strange physics-inverted world, and cryptic tales of demigods may draw you in and even entertain for the first few hours, but Innerspace has trouble staying aloft. Image courtesy PolyKnight Games When you’re awoken, you’re greeted by the “Archaeologist ” – a person in a submarine who is exploring the Inverse. They have reconstructed you from relics they have found to help them explore. You play as a flying “cartographer” that assists the Archaeologist in recovering artifacts as you explore the Inverse. The Inverse is a series of caverns connected by gates - usually inert when you find them, these gates act like portals that connect you to other parts of the Inverse. The caverns of the inverse don’t obey the same laws of physics as our world – instead, gravity pulls outwards, meaning water can be above you or below you. Up and down have less meaning, and collectible relics, which hold both new abilities and clues to this dying world, are just as likely to be below you as above. The minimalist art style is beautiful, and the lore invites you to discover its mysteries as you attempt to save a dying world. Image courtesy PolyKnight Games Unfortunately, Innerspace does not live up to its lofty aspirations. The beautiful, cryptic world-that-defies-physics turns into a maddening and confusing mess in practice. Your character inhabits an "airframe" - an autonomous flying craft. The airframe is an agile and resilient flying machine which can also dive into water, acting as a nimble submarine.  Though, when up and down are easily flipped, diving up into water takes away some of the novelty of soaring into the air just to dive into water, destroying the fun of this interesting mechanic. Diving through water also doesn't feel different enough than flying. The art style works against Innerspace too, as everything within the same area starts to look very samey-and blends together.  The up-down confusion adds little to gameplay, and becomes quite frustrating – sometimes I would try to dive into water only to “fall” against what I thought was a wall. Image courtesy PolyKnight Games Luckily, the airframes themselves are sturdy, making it difficult to inadvertently end your exploration. You can run your airframe into a wall a bunch before the screens go blank and it drops you back at the spawn point. This is the closest to a fail state that Innerspace has, as there is no proper "game over" that I found. But even having this semi-game over feels like a solution to a problem that the game itself introduces. The airframes can’t stop – they’re always being propelled forward whether you’re flying or in the water. True, there are “perches” you can fly into and launch yourself from – but there isn’t a way to ever completely stop and look around without them. A game that is centered around serene exploration yet compels you to be forever moving forward is frustrating. If the forever gliding lended itself to clever puzzles or gameplay, it would be forgivable – but as it is it’s just a tedious quirk of a game that ends up being full of tedious things. Image courtesy PolyKnight Games Innerspace is light on puzzles, but heavy on item collection. You are tasked to collect relics, relic fragments, and orbs of light (called “wind”) to power the enhancements you get through relic collecting. The different abilities and enhancements to the airframes do little to change the gameplay. There are also different bodies or “airframes” to collect, four in total. Each excels in their own way- one is geared toward speed, while another is great in water, for instance. Unfortunately, another big miss is the fact that these airframes are never that fun to fly. Besides the aforementioned compulsion to fly forward, there is little fun in maneuvering or flying through the colorful caverns of Innerspace. There is also little incentive to collect these items. Relics contain lore tidbits or even other airframes, but it doesn't feel rewarding enough to find these collectibles, other than to progress the game. Image courtesy PolyKnight Games What is captured well is an overwhelming sense of serenity that is pervasive throughout. I found Innerspace to be a great meditative tool, and it is beautiful to look at. But without any sense of urgency to progress forward and with little interest in its mysteries, I don’t see myself returning to it. Image courtesy PolyKnight Games Innerspace by PolyKnight Games is something I really wanted to like, and something I love on paper. It’s beautiful, and promises peaceful exploration through a strange world. What it ends up being is confusing, sometimes intriguing, but mostly just boring. Innerspace is available now on Windows, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XboxOne, Mac OSX and Linux.
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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.