What if H.R. Giger, David Cronenberg, and Zdzisław Beksiński worked on a horror adventure puzzle game together? Sounds pretty incredible, right? Well, publisher Kepler Interactive is bringing us exactly that. Admittedly, none of these three artists actually worked on Scorn, but the team at Ebb Software was clearly heavily inspired by their work and have managed to recreate that beautifully disgusting aesthetic remarkably well.
First and foremost, it needs to be mentioned that Scorn will not be for everyone. Of course, there are the elements of body-horror that permeate every corner of this world. Scorn embraces these biomechanical environments where everything seems to be alive in some weird way, and it isn’t afraid to mess them up badly. Let’s just say that mutilation is a rather common occurrence in Scorn. This alone will leave many people unable to engage with it. But for every person that completely checks out when they hear all of this, there’s another person that gets excited to experience it for themselves. But this isn’t the only aspect of Scorn that will cause a divide between players. In fact, I’d say almost every design decision the developers have made with this game will have that exact effect. Scorn is a wholly unique experience unlike anything else on the market today, and for that reason alone it might struggle to find an audience that will appreciate it for what it is rather than being frustrated by what it isn’t. The closest thing I can liken it to would be Death Stranding (2019), a game that has alienated many players, not for a lack of execution, but for the very core of its design, with equally as many who love it for that exact reason. I imagine a couple of years from now Scorn will be talked about in a similar way.
The art direction is without question the most important aspect of the game. It’s the first thing anybody will take note of and it’s the thing that, for a lot of people, will singlehandedly decide whether or not they’re interested in it. For good reason. The art direction in Scorn is outstanding. While it’s incredibly evocative of the works of H.R. Giger, David Cronenberg, and Zdzisław Beksiński, it also manages to create something new out of it. It’s absolutely gorgeous in it’s own disgusting way.
When I mentioned earlier that everything in Scorn feels alive, I meant that in the most unsettling way possible. There are weird fleshy noises coming from every corner, there are body parts where there shouldn’t be, and anytime you want to take control of any kind of machinery you first have to connect your own body to it; think Avatar (2009) but much more disgusting. On top of that, you are often actively hurting these living mechanisms to proceed, or alternatively, you might have to let them hurt you. Either way, the outcome of the various puzzles is rarely pretty.
While Scorn decidedly fits into the subgenre of body horror, there’s also a strong current of cosmic horror in there as well. As much as the environments feel alive, gross and disgusting, they also feel remarkably alien. Scorn transports you to a completely different place, one that feels impossibly unfamiliar, one that follows its own rules entirely.
Which might make it sound like navigating through them and solving the puzzles would be very unintuitive. Surprisingly it isn’t. The design of everything is so concise that you get what you need to do and where you need to go fairly quick. Again, while also still feeling like nothing you’ve ever come across before. How did they manage to do that? Quite frankly, I’m not sure, but they did.
I’m spending a lot of time talking about the design of the environment and that’s not just because it’s fantastic. It’s also because there isn’t much else present in Scorn, and I don’t mean that to sound like a bad thing. There’s no dialogue, barely a HUD, basically no score… It’s just you and the world around you. It makes for an incredibly immersive experience and an atmosphere that’s to die for. For most of the game you’ll just be walking around, exploring the world, and solving puzzles.
But then there’s the combat.
In a game where I adore everything else, the combat stands out as the one negative. When you first get your hands on a weapon it’s rough, but it does improve over the duration of the game. Still though, it never reaches a point where I’d call it great, but I do think by the end of the game it’s at least serviceable. To Scorn‘s benefit, there aren’t many combat encounters and the ones that do exist aren’t particularly difficult, meaning they never create an annoying roadblock that would stop you from appreciating the rest of the game.
After reading all of this you might be thinking “Ok, but what is it about? What’s the story?”. With Scorn that’s not such an easy question to answer and the game is not particularly interested in telling you; you’ll have to figure that out yourself. Scorn is a game that’s running on vibes and atmosphere before anything else, and it works remarkably well. Which isn’t to say that there’s nothing here beyond that, it just means that you’ll have to go digging for it if you care enough to do so.
Nairon played Scorn on PC with his own bought copy. Scorn is also available on Xbox Series X|S .