REVIEW – A true homage to H.R. Giger, Scorn is a genuinely remarkable outsider’s work of art that both transcends the inherent shortcomings of the video game medium and suffers from those shortcomings. Scorn is art.
From the main menu in Sparta, you enter the universe of Scorn somewhat perplexed, having decided to start a new game, and watch the titular art unfold as you tear yourself away from the festering mess you’ve gotten yourself into. Haunted by visions, the passage of time, or perhaps both, you wake up somewhere, and since you don’t even know who you’re controlling, it’s your character’s turn to march stoically towards the unfolding of events or death. Soon you find yourself pulling out an umbilical cord, and the intent of the game becomes immediately clear:
…you won’t get any help here
And that cold message tells you everything you need to know when you embark on Scorn; you won’t be given any commands or instructions, systems and controls won’t be explained, and there will be no dialogue (for example, because there’s no one to talk to) to explain any of the specific events, either now or towards the game’s climax. Nothing will even be named. In fact, not a single word is present outside the game’s menus, written or spoken.
How can there even be any validity here? To round out the game, memorize the control scheme in the Pause menu and try out each command when the next nightmarish, grotesque object comes into your possession. This game tells you everything in its own ‘visceral’ language, and you must decipher everything first.
There’s a minimal HUD here for that. Still, it only appears when absolutely necessary and displays some key data such as your remaining health before disappearing again to leave the world of Scorn with any level of distracting eye-blink uninterrupted. While the game is even less helpful with this, it’s still better in terms of artistic experience, as you’ll be eager to see every inch of the immaculately detailed, eerie visuals Ebb has created.
Of course, Giger’s style echoes almost everywhere, so much so that Google Trends’ Giger counter has now been completely overturned – Scorn’s promotional art is still among the first results when searching for the Swiss artist, with the name invoked in the press release and review, alongside Zdzisław Beksiński’s otherworldly visions. And this artistic approach – perhaps owing a little to earlier surrealists such as Alfred Kubin – absolutely dominates the play as a whole – as if Scorn was made for this purpose, to give us an H.R. Giger experience par excellence.
In terms of graphics, the level of detail displayed is astounding: not a pixel is wasted in Scorn’s biohorror visuals, which encompass a multitude of damp, labyrinthine buildings, occasionally peppered with a touch of the outdoors. Every component of the decaying, biomechanical world is highly stylized and often recognizably earthy, despite its decidedly upper-case Alien feel. Window shutters sometimes look like the chitin of a beetle’s shell, in places spikes hold up the ceiling, and there are plenty of, shall we say, more obvious references.
Sex, birth, life and death play a major role here, and these themes are incorporated into the various landmarks’ environment and functions. Weapons pulse and pulsate, and you can stick your limbs and fingers into a plethora of fleshy holes that serve as switches or input devices for machines. It’s deadly silent everywhere, but tranquillity is the last thing you’ll find in this world.
However, despite its extreme uniqueness, experimental tendencies and subversion of the established forms and conventions of the medium, Scorn is still very much a video game. Unfortunately, this genre tends to work to its detriment.
It’s a chilling experience, but I wouldn’t call it a real horror
Although Scorn is billed as a horror title, it’s much more of a heavy-handed walking simulator than, say, a title like parts of Resident Evil or even “escape horror” titles like Outlast. There’s palpable tension and atmosphere aplenty, but Scorn is not a scary experience in itself. You may shudder at the blood, grotesque visuals, or the many, often unexpected appearances of body horror, but there are no definite “nooo!” moments, such as Mr. X’s first appearance in Resident Evil 2 or much of Outlast 1-2. And I feel that this is largely due to the lack of any real threat for much of the game.
That is to say, while the handful of enemy types are pretty deadly, and even the smallest enemies can destroy you pretty quickly if you let them, they’re also terribly stupid. With basic reflexes and a bit of clever cover dodging, they can be easily dispatched at the right moment, no excessive effort required.
Ultimately, there are very few options for them. Even the toughest fights in the game are made quite easy with a turn around a post. And if there’s no pillar, simply turn and run the other way; chances are good that by the time you get back to the room, the monsters will be gone. You can also simply pass them by, as most of them will not chase you for any distance.
And the combat itself is a standard first-person survival horror experience, and nothing special – equipped with the usual sparse ammo supply and slow movement. Coupled with the shortcomings of the AI, however, it quickly becomes an unexciting, easily overwhelming, repetitive task. Fortunately, there’s not that much to do, and even less to do compulsively.
Unfortunately, the logic/adventure part of the game is not very strong either. I spent a quarter of my six-hour playing time trying to get my head around the first puzzle in the prologue, for which I got almost no guidance, not even in terms of direction or ‘interface’. Time passed by in constant trial and error until I finally got bored and looked up the solution on YouTube. This overly “strict” start can be a real deterrent for players, especially since Scorn is on Games Pass. A good portion of players will not feel obligated to continue if they are annoyed by it, as there are plenty of other games (such as Plague Tales Requiem, which arrived at the same time as it and which I am already testing) on Game Pass.
And it would be a real shame if people missed out on the incredible aesthetic experience of Scorn, which is experienced through a very unique environmental narrative.
Transition between video game and artistic walking simulator
Scorn is an odd transition in the broader understanding of video games, as it sits halfway between a survival horror game and, not pejoratively, a walking simulator. Rather than being genuinely repulsive, the twisted and bloody world attracts players. Rather than trying to get from A to B like in a more traditional horror game, you waste a lot of time just wandering around the maze while being blown away by the incredible visuals.
Unfortunately, the gameplay itself doesn’t serve this awe-inspiring aesthetic experience. Some refinement in the puzzle layout and more effort around the combat wouldn’t have hurt. For all that, only hardcore H.R. Giger fans will be compensated for this botched gaming experience.
+ Amazing H.R. An artistic experience reminiscent of Giger
+ Remarkable world design
+ Incredible atmosphere
– Lame, unsatisfying combat
– Some puzzles are excruciatingly misspelled
– Vague, almost non-existent plot
Publisher: Kepler Interactive
Developer: Ebb Software
Style: Walking simulator, action-adventure
Release: October 14, 2022.