Considering how widespread open ended exploration is in games these days, it’s odd how seldom flight is represented. Walking through tranquil meadows, sliding down sand dunes, scaling towers to admire the view from the top — for as enjoyable as ground-based exploration is, it’s well-worn territory. Whereas gliding through vast open spaces, navigating tight chasms, or just soaring high above the clouds isn’t nearly as well represented. A shame, too, as games like InnerSpace demonstrate just how wonderful leisurely flight can be.
Set a in a series of inverted planets — that is, worlds where gravity pushes outward instead of pulling inward — InnerSpace sees you exploring the remnants of an ancient civilization. You play as an AI-piloted aircraft called Cartographer, the latest invention by someone who goes by the title of The Archaeologist. The two of you came here to learn more about the civilization that once lived here and find out what ultimately happened to them. To that end, you fly around several worlds in search of relics and the Wind to power them, eventually activating the gate that leads to the next planet in the process.
Soaring around InnerSpace‘s worlds is a joy. The languid pace of the aircraft and the light touch of the music lulled me into a relaxed state. With no challenges to overcome or puzzles to solve, InnerSpace encourages you to luxuriate in the space around you rather than rush forward; to take your time and see everything each planet has to show, and enjoy the simple pleasures of flight.
Navigating the worlds can be disorienting due to the lack of any clearly defined sense of place — the worlds are inside out, after all, so there’s no real up or down — which made it difficult to discern where I was exactly at any given moment. But, for me at least, that only pushed me to poke around more, see if there was anything I overlooked on my first pass. Aimlessly drifting around each world was more than enough to hold my attention, but InnerSpace’s use of collectibles acts as a good incentive to poke around every corner. Not for completion’s sake, but because they led me to areas I might have otherwise missed. And in the case of Wind, they occasionally made for some fun courses to run through.
On that note, there’s a particular moment I’d like to highlight. In addition to opening the teleportation gate, in most of the worlds you also have to awaken the demigod residing there. For the demigod in Mornsea — an icy, crystalline world — I had to chase apparitions of birds around until they entered a tower. The routes they followed were never straightforward, often full of sudden twists and turns, which made it a struggle to keep up at times, but on the whole it was fun. It’s one of the few moments InnerSpace feels playful — a good complement to its otherwise laid-back tone.
If there’s one area InnerSpace stumbles, however, it’s in its eagerness to talk about its world rather than letting it speak for itself. The amount of lore and exposition are just slightly too much, detracting from the mystique of the world. Where games like Journey and Abzu let their worlds express their history themselves, which in turn makes them more fascinating because so there are so few hard facts about them, InnerSpace seldom resists the chance to explain the nature of its setting and what happened. Even so, the actual act of flying through its beautiful locales is a delight. Even if there’s not much to actually learn and discover for yourself, just being able to see it and enjoy it is reward enough.