Scorn is a puzzle game; unsettling and often very off-putting. It has tons of atmosphere, although I have a feeling this is going to be a very divisive game.
You exist in a very fleshy world. It appears as if muscles adore the walls, and blood makes every surface slippery. Machines and living entities appear to blend together, it is sometimes hard to understand what exactly you are looking at. There are holes to which you have to place your hands. It’s creepy stuff, unlike I have seen before.
There does seem to have been some confusion as to what exactly Scorn is. Let’s be clear, this is a puzzle game, albeit dressed up in the guise of an action-horror game. There are moments of action, although describing the activity as the action doesn’t feel quite right. The main activity you are going to take part in our puzzles. There is some feedback among audiences that they seemed to expect something else, but part of me thinks that’s projection rather than false advertising. I think some people were expecting something like Returnal, and it’s not that at all.
Scorn is a curious game, there’s not much hand-holding or explanation. There is no dialogue, no map or prompts. It’s up to you as the player to figure out what is going on through exploration, interacting with the environments and solving relatively complex problems. There are no difficulty options either, so if you get stuck, there isn’t really much to help you get through things. This can be both a blessing and a curse for some games.
While the puzzles are interesting in the game, and often challenging, the game is visually challenging to look at, especially if you are squeamish like me. Environments appear to be made of flesh, you hatch deformed beings from eggs and wield organic weapons which are attached via an umbilical cord. It’s strange, unsettling, and at times overwhelming. When I think of puzzle games, I might think of Tetris Effect, relaxing, great audio, and getting into the groove. Here the visuals are repulsive and the audio is challenging in similar ways.
The visuals are inspired by Giger and Beksiński, and there’s phallic imagery and interactions to be found everywhere. Control panels aren’t your standard sci-fi blinky buttons on a keyboard or control panel, they are literally fleshy holes you push your hands into. This is a world where you manipulate the meat to interact with the environment, and while this sounds interesting for short periods of time, I found it distinctly off-putting, and not motivating me to come back. If you like this sort of thing, then the game may hook you into repeat visits. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on me.
Regarding the gameplay, it’s slow and methodical. You start waking up in this terrifying world, slowly walk around to get your bearings and then find a few meat switches to interact with. Soon you come across one of those crane games, where you have to position various eggs into place, and then switch devices to break the eggs. The puzzles aren’t easy either. While you’ll most likely get there in the end without help, they aren’t puzzles to be solved in a matter of seconds. I don’t think they are quite as challenging as the visuals, but the puzzles and interactions are up there.
In terms of the UI, it’s very clean. You get a small action prompt when you get near an item you can interact with, sometimes you have a positive interaction, which ends in thrusting your hand into some fleshy wall, or you can interact with it. Some puzzles take time to interact with, some puzzles require other items to be used to help solve the puzzle. You aren’t going to be told any of this, so be prepared for that. When the setup is right I normally find this type of game appealing, although I found the lack of feedback from Scorn a little difficult to work with. I wanted to enjoy myself, but I found I was trying really hard, with little positive reinforcement from the game itself. I was trying to have fun, but it just wouldn’t work for me.
One frustrating element comes with the ability to save. There isn’t a manual save, meaning you have to get to the end of an act if you want to save your progress. In a game where you are solving puzzles, often frustrating ones, having the ability to take a break and come back to where you were would have been a great addition. However, when you shut things down and you are sent back to the start of the act, that only adds to the layer of frustration.
As well as the puzzling there is also some combat in Scorn too. It’s similar to a first-person shooter, but the controls didn’t feel very satisfying. I am spoilt when it comes to shooters, I play Destiny and sometimes Apex, two of the best in the business. It’s probably not fair to compare Scorn to games like that, however, I have been conditioned to expect great feeling shooting, and Scorn didn’t feel great. It’s passable, but nothing to write home about.
Overall, Scorn wasn’t for me. I am happy I tried it, but I don’t think I’ll be going back to it, and I can’t really recommend it. One of the positives for me is that it’s on Game Pass, so if you want to give it a try and see what you think of it, then you can do it as part of the Game Pass Subscription. I found it frustrating in almost every way, from the slow-paced movement, the obtuse puzzles and the lacklustre combat.
Developer: Ebb Software
Publisher: Ebb Software, Kepler Interactive
Platforms: Xbox Series S and X, PC
Release Date: 14th October 2022