I love digital card games, sadly they do not love me. I find myself constantly as the spectator, watching and reading about the strategy involved, rather than actually partaking. I don’t know, I just get too much anxiety at the thought of embarrassing misplays and my opponent wondering if I am some kind of malfunctioning bot that learns by failing.
But, a single player card game? With a really unique setting and a story that is creepily unfolding around me? Inscryption has me unbelievably hooked.
You find yourself at a table in a dimly lit room – sitting opposite you in the darkness is a figure, from whom you can only make out a set of piercing eyes that wouldn’t be out of place on the Cheshire cat. Sometimes the figure speaks, and not a single word out of their mouth is comforting. A game must be played to amuse this…stranger, and the stakes seem pretty clearly stacked towards your demise.
Rules are well explained, even if they are done in a rather creepy fashion
This is the rich and creepy setting of Inscryption. An escape room where you can freely wander and explore during pre-determined breaks from the card game, unravelling clues and solving puzzles – all while the piercing gaze of the stranger follows you from the darkness. Uncovering these secrets can provide a benefit to you, as you discover cards that can be added to your deck for the card game – or pick up on threads that may uncover further undisclosed boons later down the track.
While seated at the table, your host is accommodating for the sake of playing the odd card game he so desperately craves. It’s a simplistic battle game, where cards attack each other based on strength and defence numbers, with a set of lanes determining where creatures can attack – and if unopposed, even strike you directly to provide counters to a scale that will indicate your impending loss. If your side of the scale hits the table, you’re out buddy – and suffice to say, the outcome isn’t great for you. At least your creepy companion is generous enough to give you a great deal of guidance in how to play the game, as he obviously seeks a challenge and knows that your inevitable loss will also result in an untimely disappearance (seriously, the game over sequence is quite unnerving).
Interact with whatever you can, the claustrophobic cabin holds many secrets that can benefit you
What struck me as uniquely odd, is that some of the cards within the battle game actually speak directly to you. Initially a Stoat card would give me tips on good places to play him – but eventually he’d even start to speak of our shadowy opponent, giving the impression that he has played these games many, many times before. It was engaging and just a little weird having this living part of my menagerie, but I welcomed it. Eventually I encountered a Stinkbug card that apparently was somewhat of a nemesis to the Stoat, and the two bickered when in proximity. While amusing, it did also further the dark narrative of the game, because regardless of their differences the two of them still did not like whoever was sitting at the other end of the table.
Between games of cards, you can progress a token representing yourself on a map that the stranger will unravel for you. Plotting a course on this map will allow you to make decisions that impact your deck of beasts, as well as choose power-ups that can externally affect the game – such as adding weight to your opponent’s side of the scale. There are also little scenarios where the stranger will describe a situation to you, and depending on your choice you can actually change how one of your cards may behave. It is super atmospheric, and a great way of creating a vehicle for how gameplay progresses.
Adding a mask to your faceless opponent only makes it more distressing
Surrounding not only the game and the room itself, there is also this crazily detailed pseudo-narrative of a found footage-style horror story going on. The initial UI and menus for the game all seem styled around old tapes and computer data, adding another layer to this odd little onion. Are you the person in the room? Are you observing that person? Are you recounting a tale that has already happened through the gameplay, and the outer layer of the narrative is someone piecing it together? I have no idea.
While the preview was quite small, it gave an amazing slice of what to expect from the game, and I predict it’s the sort of title to burrow deep into my mind and take up residence. The aesthetic of the game is that unbelievably well styled ‘retro-horrorcore’ that can be a little wobbly if done incorrectly – but with Inscryption I can’t help but feel it is nailed. I can’t wait to see more, because if it only gets better from here I can safely say the title is going to be a real treat.
Inscryption is still lurking in the shadows, but is expected to release on the October 20, 2021.
Previewed on PC // Preview code supplied by publisher