Review – Scorn
I think it’s safe to say, like most people, Scorn caught my eye with its art style clearly inspired by H.R. Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński. It’s such a striking visual style that it’s hard not to want to see more, as it peaks your macabre sense of wonder. From Ebb Software’s little teasers, you simply want to see more of this Alien-inspired world and what nasty, slimy, biopunk things will come next. This is essentially the core of what made Scorn so appealing to me throughout the entire game. I just wanted to see more of its world.
Scorn is not a crowd-pleaser; it will not attract nor does it cater to a wide audience. Ebb Software had a clear vision and inspiration and they went for it fully. This isn’t a game that is going to tell you a deep narrative, have exposition dumps, or even direct you on what to do next. They want you lost in this world, and for you to use your own wonder, curiosity, and intuition to decipher what is going on with this strange alien civilization you’re dumped in. This will turn a lot of people off, but I loved that aspect of it.
After a brief opening custscene, where your character awakens and you get flashes of a tower beckoning you to come to it, you’re then completely left to you own devices. No tutorial, no quest marker, no HUD. You’re given that small motivation to escape whatever this is and make your way to what looks like salvation. You’ll quickly be put into a large puzzle that includes multiple steps, several rooms, two floors to explore, and even the use of a NPC. It may seem daunting, but this sets the expectation of what you’ll be doing for the majority of the game.
Fans of puzzle games like Myst will likely succeed in these trials, because most of the time, the puzzles will require you to fully understand each moving part before you will start to put it together. The puzzles have a nice difficulty, with a lot of pieces that need to be solved to get past them, but never frustrating enough to figure out. Most of the time, you’ll just need to interact with everything you can, understand what you’ll need to get past it, and then continue to explore until you find or unlock what you need. There were times I had to stop a second and think, but never a time where I felt it was being overly obscure to where I would need a guide.
When Scorn is weaving its puzzles through the amazing atmosphere and art design, it truly shines. Unfortunately, the combat sections throw a wrench into that fantastic blend. Combat is definitely not the main focus in Scorn, but it is there. It feels a bit tacked on, like its purpose is as a time buffer. It doesn’t add any suspense or scares to the already tension-filled environments. Instead, it’s more frustrating and pulls you out of the absorbing atmosphere. The weapons are actually pretty cool and fit in with the theme organically, but it’s the clunky use of them that isn’t fun.
Enemies also have no scare factor or creepy designs, they kind of look like fleshy deformed dogs. There is also a lack of enemy variety until you get towards the end with a boss, which was admittedly the best combat experience from a design point. Ultimately, I feel like if they couldn’t have fleshed out the combat, enemies, and controls then I would have been fine without it completely, and just have more items used for puzzles instead.
I know I’ve already gone into how fantastic Scorn’s art style and atmosphere is, but it truly has some great visuals throughout. Each major area has its own large set piece to show off its twisted designs and I would often stop to take it all in. In each area I was using my capture button to take tons of screenshots because of how unsettlingly beautiful it was in its own way. Ebb Software truly nailed the art direction and you can see the care they put into each area. That is until it comes to the enemies. As I mentioned before, the enemy design and variety is severely lacking and simply does not live up to the rest of the game.
Sound design is purposefully minimalist and it works really well to set the unnerving tone of the environments. There are still swells of music that play perfectly to the eerie surroundings. Sound effects are also done really well, from the slimy, squishiness of the flesh and gore to the rigid grinding of the metal moving parts. Even if the combat is the weakest gameplay area, the sound design for the guns still has impact.
At its heart, Scorn is a puzzle game with a clear design and structure that knew exactly what it wants to achieve and in that aspect it achieved it perfectly. It’s not a game that will please everyone, but these are the type of art games I enjoy. The weaving of the art design and puzzles is so cohesive that I could truly believe these could be part of some living alien world. Combat does drag the experience down quite a bit from the controls to the enemies, but if you’re looking for a macabre puzzle game, there aren’t many games that do it this well.
Scorn’s atmosphere, setting, and how it weaves the organic flesh look into the mechanical gears is fantastic. However, enemy design and variety are lacking.
The way Scorn blends its puzzles into the environments is fantastic. There is challenge here, but nothing unfair that would need a guide. Unfortunately, the combat leaves a lot to be desired and is frustrating at times.
Sound design is minimalist, but that adds to the eerie atmosphere of it all. The soundtrack and general sound effects fit the theme perfectly.
Fun Factor: 7.5
Scorn’s story is vague, but there is still a lot to unpack and interpret here. The puzzles are the main focus and these are done very well. It’s just a shame the combat is so stiff and not enjoyable.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Scorn is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Scorn was provided by the publisher.