Now that we are in the midst of the spookiest season in earnest, a few things are bound to happen. There will be remakes of classic horror stories that manage to miss the mark retroactively making the original story better. By comparison, a few new ideas will show up to try to reinvent the entire horror genre, but will ultimately end up as a mediocre or shallow product at the end of the day, and there will be a couple of independent projects with some legitimately interesting ideas that will hit big with a cult audience but not garner a whole lot of mainstream appeal.
You might not recognize the name Dan Mullins right off the top of your head, but he’s been doing some interesting things in this space for a few years now. Aside from his numerous game jam products, he’s also the developer behind The Hex, Pony Island, and, of course, Inscryption. While his other games certainly found plenty of fans around the internet, especially Pony Island, I have to say Inscryption is far and away my favourite among the bunch.
“I have to say Inscryption is far and away my favourite among the bunch.”
Inscryption is a horror themed card game with some rogue-like, deck builder elements and some escape room style puzzles. If you ever played Sacrifices Must be Made, a horror game made by Dan Mullins for a Ludum Dare game jam, this is an evolution of that game with hot new art and more diabolical mechanics. The concept is pretty simple: cards usually have an attack and a health value. Often, cards will require a number of sacrifices to be made in order to play them onto the field.
For example, a wolf has some decent stats but needs two sacrifices to come out. That might be a squirrel, with an attack of 0 and a health of 1 (specifically here for this sort of thing) and a stoat that has taken some damage already. Not only that, but often cards will have special abilities that can get pretty wild and mix things up in an interesting way, especially once you start sacrificing them at altars to improve other cards.
“Inscryption has plenty of secrets to be found and layers to unfold.”
This game is certainly playing with some weird themes, what with the sacrifices and abominations and all that. It only gets weirder once the cards start talking to you, remembering that you sacrificed them before, that sort of thing. Luckily, Inscryption boasts an art style that pairs beautifully with these dark dealings. Your constant opponent sits in the dark with his eyes piercing through the darkness at you.
Between card games, you’ll move along a map with randomly generated events and paths where he will act a bit like a dungeon master. He’ll don elaborate masks for boss encounters, peer through caves at you as beasts in the dark, and reach for you with his massive, gnarled hands whenever your last candle goes out, and you have lost the game.
There is certainly a story here, and, if you’re familiar with Mr. Mullins’ body of work, you likely already know what sort of story it is. In a game, within a game, things are not what they seem with terrible implications abound. While it is beginning to be a bit of a cliché at this point, I will say that this story is approached with more subtlety than you’ll usually find with this sort of thing, and I can’t help but see that as positive growth from an artist I’ve been enjoying more and more over the years. Inscryption has plenty of secrets to be found and layers to unfold.
Overall, I like Inscryption a lot, from its gameplay to its overall thematic style that oozes out from every corner of the thing. The card game itself is simple with a lot of depth to keep future runs interesting, and the overall visual presentation compliments the whole experience immensely. I don’t know if you’re going to be coming back here again and again after you’ve beaten the thing, but it’s certainly a fun experience to have, especially in this, our spookiest of seasons.