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Maximum Spoilage: Inscryption Loses its Edge

The Maximum Spoilage series of writings is focused on discussing aspects of a game that would spoil said game to any normal person. Please continue reading at your own riskryption.

Inscryption is a great game that perhaps begins with more greatness than it ends. If you have any interest in playing, and you should, I would really not read this. Anyway, after being forced to “Continue” a game from the top menu when you start the game for the first time, you realize your character is playing a card-based board game under some duress. The game is legitimately unsettling when it dawns on you that you’re a prisoner and the in-game game you are playing likely has mortal consequences. The Frog Fractions-esque ability to step away from the board game – where you play the in-game board game – and examine your gloomy confines, all while your captor remains invisible sans his eyes, lends the game an ambiance of true horror.

That this is a horror game is reinforced by your ability to remove a tooth in order to gain a slight upper hand in the board game, and then later even an eye. Allowing players to maim their characters conveys the stakes clearly. When you inevitably lose, you are taken into the back of the darkened cabin in which you’ve been confined and then murdered – your last vision the same eyes that had been following you the whole time, now joined by a pair of outstretched hands clearly coming for your neck. “Next,” says your captor. And you play again. And die again.

Scary card game opponent.

Finally defeating your gaoler at his board game ends this section of Inscryption and the plot then takes a turn for the worse. You are dumped to a screen that offers a handful of found footage video clips ala Blair Witch Trials (or one of the million similar movies). You learn that you are actually controlling a livestreaming card collector who found the game you are playing. You never have actual control over the human actor, but instead control how he plays the in-game game. It’s sufficiently meta and circuitous that for a little while I felt the confusion that the new framing device created was an acceptable trade for the pure horror of the first act of the game.

But then there was more plot stuff and with each batch I enjoyed it less. There are plenty of 3 second fuzzy videos supposed to create some form of tension (maybe there are clues for the augmented reality game or other obscure hints buried in these videos). A second live human actor is added to the found footage cast and it gets sillier still. The video game you’ve been playing that your live-streamer found is evil (and the ARG surrounding Inscryption apparently explains Hitler has something to do with the evil code within said evil game). One of the programmers of the in-game game died under mysterious circumstances, most likely due to abounding evil. The company that made the game says they didn’t make it but still wants it back and is willing to kill to get it. The whole thing is just goofy.

Scary cabin door.

The design boons the expanded storyline allows are undeniably worth it when speaking solely of gameplay. Inscryption’s second act mirrors an old RPG and triples the number of playable and collectable cards. The number of new play features added hours into the game is staggering. The third act mirrors the first but is much less scary because your new captor simply fails to come across as particularly intimidating and for the fact that you already saw this setup. But again, the designer/s add so much new stuff the repetition is certainly worth it from a gameplay perspective. Inscryption is absurdly creative and really should be played by anyone who values originality.

I understand why the initial dark cabin motif of the first act was abandoned – stretching that out for the entire length of the game and packing the constant mechanic tweaks and changes into that one section would not work. But damn do they give up a genuinely frightening setup for something far sillier and less unsettling by zooming out to the larger found footage plotline. The original premise of playing a game within a game against your will is so compelling I want other developers to steal it, but now such a simpler, scarier story cannot be told without drawing comparisons to Inscryption.

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