Card battlers certainly aren’t hard to find these days but rarely do you find one quite like Inscryption.
Part Hearthstone. Part DND. Part Escape Room with a Five Nights at Freddy’s twist. This game has become my go-to pleasure over the past few weeks and I just can’t put it down.
It starts simply enough. You dive into this retro-esque, pixelated world, faced with complete darkness and a pair of large white eyes glaring back at you. You’ve got a few cards to your name but no real idea what to do with them.
You’re just told to play a squirrel, then a Stoat and a Bullfrog. Eventually a wolf. All the while you’re thinking, what the hell am I actually doing?
Rather than topload you with walls of text on how to play, you gradually pick the game over round after round with this mysterious shady figure helping you, while also at the same time trying to kill you. Yeah, it’s pretty conflicting.
But essentially you play a squirrel, the weakest card, in order for it to be sacrificed for a stronger card. The more squirrels you place down on your row of 4, the more you can sacrifice and the stronger the card you can play.
It’s that simple at first, until the game starts throwing new mechanics and dynamics to be aware of, like bone cards which can only be played after you’ve lost a certain number of cards.
You’ll also move across a map, making a choice between left, right or forward. This can lead you to strengthening a card by increasing its health, or by purchasing pelts which can be exchanged for rarer, stronger cards.
You even have an inventory of items you can use in your quest, and will get items like an angler’s hook to drag a card down to you and a bottle with a squirrel card in it to give you an initial advantage.
But that is only half of the game. See, this faceless Gamesmaster is looking for a real challenge to try and win their game, but they’re also looking to snuff out your light and kill you. When you lose two hands, the two candles to your right are snuffed out and you’re stuffed into a back room somewhere and given your death card.
The death card is a mix of three cards in your hand, and is finished off with a photo of your face. A photo that ends up killing you and bringing forth the next challenger.
See, as it turns out you’re actually trapped inside what appears to be a log cabin with a light flashing outside the door and within the cabin are a series of puzzles for you to solve that will help you escape. Like a series of drawers that contain special cards and a clock with a mystery behind it.
As you play you’ll also gather items that actually have usefulness beyond measure, like a jar that provides you hints and tips and cards that talk to you, guiding you forward.
Inscryption is kind of like a rogue-like then, one that evolves the story even if you lose. You’ll uncover new clues in death and likewise learn a lot through victory. The game is very cleverly designed, making every turn unpredictable and all the more interesting.
If the identity of your captor isn’t the motivator driving you, perhaps it’ll be the solution to your puzzle or the boss battles you’ll end up taking on or seeing more of the cards. Inscryption has a lot of hook factors that just make it an essential play.
And even beyond that, there’s a real undertone of menace here. You don’t know what to expect, you’re not sure where you’re going to end up next and you’re not even sure you want to know at the same time. Hands crawl out at you to drag you to your doom. The game’s sound effects grate on you and the music unsettles.
This game is a real trip, but it’s one you won’t soon forget and one you’ll stay determined to see through to the end. Inscryption is one of my favourite games this year and on PS5 the DualSense really adds to that experience, with flashing colours beaming out of from the touchpad, noises creeping out through the speaker and subtle rumblings really adding to the tension.
Inscryption is one of my Games of the Year and is an absolute must-play. If you even have a passing interest in card games, mashed in with a bit of horror and puzzle solving, you’ll find this impossible to put down until you get all the answers to your questions. From the well designed mechanics, to the gradual narrative and creepy, menacing score, this has atmosphere and engagement in abundance and won’t let up until the credits roll.
+ Cleverly designed mechanics make for interesting strategic gameplay
+ Tricky puzzle solving to break up the card-based action
+ An intriguing, gradually pieced together story
+ Atmosphere in abundance
– Can feel a bit repetitive if you’re hitting a wall on trickier bosses
Inscryption is out now on all formats.
Code Kindly Provided by Daniel Mullins Games