Let me tell you how it feels to play this game, Inscryption. It feels, looks and sounds like playing something you found in a garbage bin, a CD with some indiscernible words marking its side. You put the disc in the drive and you find yourself immersed in a soaked, swampy, dark atmosphere, playing cards with a creepy, mysterious entity, while it’s raining outside. Oh, and let me tell you, there is no swamp really. No rain either. There is nothing actually, besides a small cabin in (presumably, we don’t know) the woods. A set of eyes, always watching our every move. A clock on the wall. A safe with a combination lock. Creepy music. We have no idea why anything is where it is. Hell, we don’t know why we are there to begin with.
Then, the entity invites us to play a card game. The atmosphere begins to take form in a way only possible in VR. The cards are almost tangible, the entity feels as though they are actually sitting in front of us. We are explained the rules of this weird card game, that are -at first- pretty straightforward and reminiscent of other similar games’, but little by little they start to get way more complex. Oh, also, some cards talk with you, and seem to have their own agenda regarding this strange place and the nightmarish set of eyes that inhabits it.
You’re not expecting this
I say that the rules are familiar, but I’m oversimplifying really. You see, in Iscryption you do play with cards, and these cards do have stats like health and attack, and also some extra conditions like “flying”. It’s familiar, yes, but also it’s eerie because it is interwoven with the game’s overall narrative in interesting ways that more often than not end up in some kind of bloodshed. You have to sacrifice cards to gain “blood”, after all, which is then used as a resource to summon stronger cards. Every time you pull up a vicious wolf-card, the other cards on the table start to tremble because they know they’re about to be sacrificed; what’s a puny squirrel next to a mighty wolf?
One of the better parts of Inscryption’s card game systems is found in the conditions you have to meet to win a match. You have to “kill” the enemy cards and then hit the “health” of the player, until you bring it down to zero, as in most games of this type. But, here, it’s not that simple. In Inscryption, every bit of damage you inflict on your opponent tips a scale to one side. If you bring it all the way to one side, you win. But every time the enemy damages you, the scales tip back to the opposite side. So, it’s a constant battle of wits and luck, never entirely predictable and always fun in a grim way.
A haunted card game
The rules get expanded on, you find some ways to upgrade your cards later, and in general Inscryption is a very good card game, built on a weird, unsettling cabin that looks like the backdrop of an escape room experience. And, what a surprise, it also kinda is one! I mean, the puzzles you’ll see around this otherworldly room are not plain decorations: they have actual meaning and uses. You can get up from the table and roam around the cabin, with the ever-present eyes always there, so you get to meddle around with the machines and strange items you find. At first you will not know what any of it is. But give it a while and the card game will merge with the room, you’ll start understanding what you need to do and why, and then you will actually do it and encounter the most surprising twists you couldn’t think of.
Listen, I could tell you exactly what happens, I could explain why Inscryption is superb, but I absolutely will not, because I will ruin it. This is a game that must be experienced with zero knowledge about its intricacies. Believe me, if it sounds even a tiny bit interesting to you, you should just play it without researching anything. It’s made to be experienced this way. It surely helps that the game looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous, exactly how it should: like a haunted, unknown game found in the garbage.
Go in with an open mind
While it is one of the best games to come out lately, and one of the most interesting ones you will ever play, there are a few structural problems and in some parts you might actually get a bit bored. This is because Inscryption is in its heart a roguelike. Yes, it’s a card game, a horror experience, a roguelike and some other words that I will not utter, in fear that I’ll spoil the entire thing. Its roguelike aspect is interesting and downright creepy at times, but it does, in some instances, get in the way of enjoying the well-crafted narrative and the excellent card mechanics. Then again, I am not sure how it could be improved upon, but I think lowering the ambitions a tiny bit could maybe be beneficial. Also, the controls could definitely be better, especially in the walking-around parts, and some puzzles and mechanics could be explained in a more clear way. However, the core of the game is so interesting that all these little problems get washed out and feel like noise. As it stands, it is absolutely unique, mind-bending and well-made, even taking into account those little parts that bring down the experience. A superb experience, beautiful, one of a kind, fun, occasionally funny, and very unsettling.