Scorn Review: "Visceral Gore, Average Puzzles"
Scorn is a first-person puzzle horror game brought to us by Ebb Software, who have redefined the meaning of 'body horror'. Scorn aims to shock with its visceral bio-mechanical world, a world in which we are dropped with little explanation or idea as to where we are or what is exactly happening. Is it a nightmare, a hellscape, or some form of eternal punishment? Read on to find out and see if Scorn is the game for you.
Scorn drops you down with a silent protagonist, a humanoid being who must navigate their way through a factory of sorts, one that seems to deal with the reproduction of organisms. Everyone is clued into this world except for the player, with the main character having intrinsic knowledge of how machinery works in this horrid place. With the design of the game revolving around body horror, guts and gore are plentiful, so be careful if you have a weak stomach.
Unfortunately, the first puzzle of the game, which is to get past a locked set of double doors, is needlessly convoluted. Scorn begins near a vast central chamber with branching paths, already an overwhelming start, it will require you to take an elevator off a pathway and conduct a tile puzzle. Next follows a series of steps which are not intuitive. Hard puzzles can be immensely satisfying once solved, this first puzzle, however, has no such payoff. There is no sense of reward as Scorn doesn’t take care to lay out any clues to follow, if you miss the room you need to be in that’s the end of it.
As such, this isn’t a great puzzle to start the game off with and may put players off an overall solid game. Past this, the game substantially increases in quality and the puzzles start to make more thematic sense to the environment you're in.
A Carnival Of Carnage
The game's sound design is impeccable. Headphones are a must whilst playing to get the full effect of this. Often, you'll be alone but will hear the groans and rustle of movement around you, adding to the tension. Past the first puzzle, the first sign of other life in the factory is a memorable encounter. You only see a glimpse of the parasitic creature; the game is careful to prolong the tension and keep it elusive.
Next, follows a much better puzzle requiring you to travel between channels and collect rings to a contraption. All the while, you know the creature is in the vicinity, occasionally you'll see a tail slip out of view from a ceiling. This sequence feels like it came straight out of Alien and is one of the stronger sequences of the game. Unfortunately, it was around this point in the game that I encountered a game-breaking bug. The cylinder puzzle wasn’t possible to interact with. Luckily, a PC restart was enough to jump the game ahead and the bug doesn’t appear to be a common problem amongst gaming channels.
The game will take approximately six to eight hours to complete, depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles. This seems to be a sweet spot for horror games, with Scorn feeling as though it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The content is a slow drip feed with it taking around two hours before you're fully equipped with a gun. Even then, it's more of a multi-purpose tool with the capability of delivering Doom-style finishing moves to the hybrid monsters. Using a factory tool as the only means of combat is an effective way of making the character feel vulnerable but still allowing you some capabilities of defence.
Dazed And Confused
The environmental design is the only way to get a glimpse of the overarching story. Themes around fertility and childbirth are nothing new in the horror landscape, this was unfortunately overdone in Outlast 2 which delighted in showing the audience extreme gore and tropes around childbirth. Scorn does this with more of a deft hand however, in the sense that it adds purpose to the story and leaves the players picking up the pieces of why a bio-factory is collecting and making new people in a range of failed experiments.
If you're interested in the story, you'll have to search for it however as the game gives nothing away beyond environmental design. To add to your confusion, the bio-mechanical backgrounds, whilst fitting thematically, leads to identical-looking pathways outfitted in the same tendrils and extremities. This game is full of pathways which branch off into different rooms, you'll often go back on yourself and get lost in the canopy of gore. Whilst this arguably builds upon the tension of the game, it can lead to frustrating sequences where you're not sure where you are meant to be going, with most of the set looking identical.
Adding to this, the game faithfully sticks to the same grim colour palette of greys and browns. The dusty grim world you find yourself in gives purpose to this and to the atmosphere of despair. Although this can add to the confusion at times, the art direction of the game is one of its biggest successes. Seeing the game in all its visceral gory glory is satisfying enough to distract you from otherwise average puzzles. Occasionally you get a shock of red or flash of light when interacting with machinery which contributes to a nice break from the tones of grey.
The puzzles are only difficult in the fact that you are given no clues to follow. Once you realise how to interact with different pedestals, they become more straightforward. Usually, you collect something to add to a contraption which will open and clear the way forward. From this, there is little reason to progress except to simply play the game. There aren’t any clear story beats to follow, the only motivation you have is to continue the game so you can find more information on what is going on – a motivation which is never clearly rewarded as the game chooses to opt for an ambiguous ending.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy
Scorn is a solidly above-average horror puzzle game which successfully delivers its premise and makes its audience feel insecure within a body horror setting full of guts and gore. Unlike previous body horror games such as Agony, the game doesn’t linger on shock tactics for long, it does use its environment to hint at a broader story and purpose. Nothing is put in to mindlessly shock but rather to make the audience question themselves and their surroundings.
Whilst the puzzles are engaging enough, you won't be given any clues but simply dropped into the game and left to your own devices. Unlike titles such as Resident Evil 7, which experimented with shadow puppets, statues, and experimented with clues through old VHS tapes and scenery, Scorn lacks the same charm and imagination in areas and puzzles are dripped down to interacting with the correct pedestals and connecting pathways, which can lead to frustration if you've missed the pedestal you're meant to find.
Scorn is a solid horror option to kill a few hours of your time but isn’t particularly memorable, and covers no new ground in the puzzle horror genre.
Reviewed on PC.