Scorn, by Ebb Software and Kepler Interactive, has always been up there on my most anticipated games for this new generation. Its macabre yet beautiful aesthetic drew me in in a way. On top of going places where not many other games have gone with its phallic-shaped guns, its brutal nature with how it treated its main character, and so much more. All packaged in a horror bow that felt like it’d fit perfectly into the spooky season. Then I sat down and played Scorn, and to my surprise… nothing really clicked. In my 3.5-hour playthrough, which felt extremely short at first glance, I just didn’t have the fun I was expecting to have. That ending piece is the key to my issues with this game. My expectations got in the way of possibly the most Art Pieces games to have been released in recent memory.
Scorn carries several different hats. It’s a Horror game. It’s a puzzle game. It’s also a shooter. Each of those tags, or genres, that just about every game gets boiled down to raise my expectations differently. But is it the game’s fault for not meeting my own expectations? Absolutely not. You see, what Scorn does best is take each of those genres and mould them into ways that work perfectly for this world we’re exploring. Here are some examples of what I mean.
In a lot of the marketing, and just about everywhere I looked for information on this game, I was pitched “Horror”. When I think of horror, I look to Dead Space or Resident Evil, shining examples of the survival horror genre. Scorn doesn’t use those same tropes to make you scared or uneasy. There were no loud noises or jumpscares. Instead, it went with a more Cronenberg style of horror; Body horror, mutilation horror, and gore horror, to be exact. I could not once get out of my mindset of “okay, there must be a jumpscare coming soon”. Or, “oh, this is a long hallway. I bet I’ll get chased down it!” None of those things ever happened. Instead, I just saw something that felt more grotesque, making my stomach turn.
I never could fully appreciate the feelings the devs were giving me, and I wrote this game off as not being scary.
Then there’s the shooting element. Throughout several points of a playthrough, you’ll get weapons to help defend yourself from fetus-shaped monsters. These weapons include a piston-like melee weapon, a pistol, a shotgun, and a grenade launcher. But they don’t look like what you’d expect for these weapons. They’re all beautifully designed to fit right in with this world’s fleshy facade, and they all feel like they’re alive. Like they’re a part of your character. But they never controlled the way I wanted them to control. The aiming felt sluggish, and the reloading was horrendously slow. On top of that the enemies I faced were punishing. They were crack shots who always knew where exactly I was going to be.
I could only take them down with barely any health left or by luck with them missing shots. It wasn’t luck, though. I was just doing the right thing and just never recognizing it, with the key being patience. I could never get out of my own mindset of how shooters played. Especially with coming off of faster-paced, quick reaction time games like Rainbow Six Siege. When it did conform to how I was used to playing shooters, it felt like the developers just didn’t understand what shooters were and just tacked it on to extend the game length.
It was never the game’s fault for my inability to get out of this mindset to play the game how I wanted it to play.
Finally, when I finished the game, I hated the puzzles. Similarly to how I felt about the shooting elements, most felt tacked on just to pad the game time. However, each puzzle fits so well into the world, and my surprise for finding these puzzles and solving them made them feel out of place. They fit perfectly in their spots in this world. For example, one of the first puzzles you’ll do is try to get an egg pod out of a rack of expired eggs. Some are connected, and there are holes in the grid you can’t pass over (this is a horrible description. But you’ll know what I mean when you see it). This world felt like it’s been lost to time, and the theming of this puzzle, of just finding one viable egg to help you, worked to get that idea across. I just never could recognize it. I found it by what felt like an accident.
But that was actually the goal.
The narrative, too, felt so hollow. But that’s because there was no narrative at all. From the start, you are told, “There are no prompts. You will find everything on your own”. And that was the truest statement I’ve ever read for a game like this. Everything, from the weapons to the door mechanisms to even ammo and health stations, are all there. You just have no idea what they are until you interact with them for the first time. Same for the story, I was being fed a message that I couldn’t understand until I beat the game. And when I got fed a piece that felt like a narrative, I unconsciously rejected it because it wasn’t what I expected. Plus, it was the ending cutscene, which felt like a shock to get SOME piece of information this late in the game. A narrative, though, was there. Well, more of a message. One that I don’t want to spoil because, if you’re like me, it kind of creeps up on you until you accept this world for what it’s trying to say.
The world though is the shining beacon of this game. It is quite possibly the most horrifically beautiful world I’ve ever seen. The architecture, the statues, and the creatures within all fit cohesively together. With such detail, too, everywhere I looked felt alive. Not a bustling city alive, but “we are walking through a massive creature right now” alive, even if there wasn’t much evidence of it being one. That was what kept me coming back for more. I wanted to explore what I could find next. That part of the game was able to easily speak to me and pique my interest in a way I haven’t felt in a long while. My morbid curiosity side of wanting to know how much more twisted this place could get.
When you bundle all those pieces together, like art, Scorn’s not for everyone. But those who do hear it will value this game for a long while as the art statement it is. I’m just disappointed that my own preconceived notions got in the way of that.
Scorn is a survival horror shooter puzzle game and it uses each of those elements in its own mold. For those, like me, who unconsciously cannot accept that fact will think this game failed. It won’t grab them the way they hope to. But for those who can accept simple truths for what this game’s trying to teach you, from the gameplay to the story it’s telling, this can be a top 5 horror game of all time. I got in my own way for enjoying this game, meaning Scorn is not for me… yet. And that’s okay.
Scorn is out today on PC, Xbox Game Pass, and Xbox Series X/S.
- Rating - 8/108/10
Scorn is a survival horror shooter puzzle game and it uses each of those elements in its own mold.