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Game review 14 October 2022, 12:00

Scorn Review: An Unsettling Journey

Scorn throws you into a world filled with grotesque imagery and expects you to figure your way forward. Its lack of direction creates a wonderful feeling of dread, but it can become a maddening experience for some.

The review is based on the PC version. It's also relevant to XSX version(s).

Inspired by the works of Swiss artist H.R. Giger, Scorn is an atmospheric masterpiece that makes you uneasy from the moment it begins. It’s a game that showcases an alien world that melds flesh with machinery and has you wandering dark, foreboding areas where you never know what lurks around the corner.

Its lack of direction, narration, and even tangible plot create a unique experience that is both enthralling and maddening at the same time. Everything you do in Scorn you will do out of trial and error. From hitting a switch to see what happens to wandering down a corridor to see if that’s the way forward—you are all on your own as the game doesn’t hold your hand or offer hints at what you should do next. It’s a game that will immerse you into a world that is deliciously macabre, but will also frustrate you trying to set the mood.

No Direction

One of the ways Scorn makes you feel alone and uneasy is that there is no context as to where you are, who you are, or what you are supposed to do. As soon as you start the game, you know you are controlling this naked human-like character who seems to have fallen into a giant underground chamber filled with torture-like machinery and lots of gory substances all around. Are you trying to make your way to the surface? Are you one of the last survivors on this alien planet? Or are you really just meant to be sacrificed in the end?

PROS:
  1. A beautiful, unsettling world to explore that makes you feel alone;
  2. Detailed reliance on H.R. Giger imagery and concepts;
  3. Puzzles that will challenge you but reward you with the way forward.
CONS:
  1. Lack of direction leads to frustrating backtracking and feeling lost;
  2. Combat mechanics are punishing and awkward;
  3. Backtracking will force you to fight enemies and waste precious ammo.

Scorn never tells you what you are doing so you simply have to explore your surroundings and fall upon switches, doors, and puzzles that when solved seemingly open the way forward. It’s a linear game in how you play it, but how you play it is the initial question. I spent a good hour just wandering the first part of the game wondering if I was going the right way only to find a puzzle that when solved made me have to backtrack to where I just came from to open the way forward.

Logic is key in this game so if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings or put two and two together right away, you are bound to get lost. Even if you are savvy and expect the unexpected, Scorn doesn’t offer you a map or directional system so you will have to rely on your own memory to find your bearings. Even some switches can’t be activated until you do something else first so you have to make a mental note to go back to an area later.

Grotesque Beauty

Now, this would be fine if the game was all about solving puzzles and exploring, but Scorn does feature combat through light shooting. It’s not a shooter, by any means, and you will be glad it isn’t because it’s not a very fun one at that. Enemy encounters should be avoided, but sometimes you will have fend off against grotesque creatures simply because you are running around everywhere. No direction means you will backtrack a lot trying to find the next puzzle or door to interact with so you may just have to fight that gnarly-looking chicken thing you ran past earlier after all.

You do get a few weapons throughout the course of the game, but your ammunition is scarce driving you to actively manage your resources. Your first weapon is a piston gun that doesn’t use up ammo, but it takes a few seconds to reload, meaning you will have to awkwardly hit and run enemies to avoid getting hit. If you managed to avoid their projectile attacks, you’re golden, but too many hits means you will die and respawn at questionable checkpoints that sometimes force you to replay whole cutscenes.

VERDICT:

Scorn is an atmospheric masterpiece that wants you to be smart, logical, and mindful. If you are not, then it will feel more like a frustrating tease than a disturbing journey of discovery.

The true draw of Scorn, of course, is in the ambience it creates through its use of Giger-like environments as the world seems alive yet fused with machinery at the same time. Even hitting a switch involves you sticking your hands into mechanisms that sometimes puncture your skin to activate a door. Your limited health and ammo “vessel” is an actual tentacle-like creature that gets injected with blood and eggs (?) at refueling stations. When you need health, you just pluck out its swollen glands and stick them onto your body while reloading involves picking out the eggs and sticking them into your gun—which is also alive, by the way.

This interplay of the organic and the mechanical are what make Scorn feel so weird to play but so intriguing to explore. I was keen on discovering what else the game had in store after walking past piles of human bodies and leading a human-like prisoner into a contraption that scooped him up and threw him into a pit. What was left behind was his bloody, dismembered arm which served as a key to open a door to the next area. Some areas are seriously disturbing but fascinating at the same time. Even your character is constantly getting stabbed by this scorpion-like creature wrapped around his abdomen.

Final Thoughts

The price, of course, could be your sanity as Scorn tries too hard to make you feel alone and disoriented. Sure, it’s a nice concept to not have any instructions, but not realizing you can actually heal yourself until you go into the menu and see the controls is annoying as I wish I knew that earlier on. However, it could also be the game punishing me for not being more hyper aware of my surroundings and playing it smart.

It may sound like I am complaining, but Scorn is actually a fun experience when you know what you are doing. Its puzzles, for example, will surely test your logic skills, but what will truly challenge you is figuring out where you need to go next and how you make it there in the first place. There are plenty of eureka moments here and there, but being overrun by enemies or backed into a corner simply because you didn’t know any better is just unfair.

Scorn Review: An Unsettling Journey - picture #4

Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.

Your environment is also a character of its own and both repels and draws you in. Its mind-twisting corridors, multi-level maps, and flesh-dependent contraptions are sure to get you lost but offer much to gawk at along the way. At the end of the day, Scorn wants you to be smart, logical, and mindful. If you are not, then it will feel more like a frustrating tease than a disturbing journey of discovery.

Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com

Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo grew up playing video games and finally started writing about them on a blog after college. He soon began to write for small gaming websites as a hobby and then as a freelance writer for sites like 1UP, GamesRadar, MacLife, and TechRadar. Giancarlo also was an editor for Blast Magazine, an online gaming magazine based in Boston where he covered various video game topics from the city's indie scene to E3 and PAX. Now he writes reviews and occasional previews for Gamepressure covering a broad range of genres from puzzle games to JRPGs to open-world adventures. His favorite series include Pokémon, Assassin's Creed, and The Legend of Zelda, but he also has a soft spot for fighting and music games like Super Smash Bros and Rock Band. When not playing Overwatch after a long day at work, he enjoys spending time working out, meal prepping, and discovering new international films and TV shows.

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