Whether it’s Aliens, Hellraiser, The Fly, or Re-Animator, just to name a few, I dig the body horror genre. The existential dread of something foreign wrestling control away from its host, only to twist them into something strange or sinister makes for some gruesome fun. It seems Ebb Software feels the same way, because their new game, Scorn, is just unsettling and gross – and I’m very much here for it.
Let’s get what Scorn isn’t out of the way. It’s not a first person shooter, it’s not survival horror, or even traditional horror. Whatever you may have gleaned from the trailers, Scorn is a body horror puzzle game, through and through. Sure, there’s a dash of danger and some punishing combat, but that’s hardly the focus. Scorn is body horror, mixed with puzzles and an ever-expanding, twisting, and interconnected world.
Scorn takes a familiar and appreciated approach to horror. The best horror titles revel in letting the observer come to their own conclusions, which are often worse than can be described or shown. No, the truest form of terror lies inside the mind, evoking our worst fears from the darkest recesses. It’s what makes the writings of such greats as Harlan Ellison as compelling and timeless as they continue to be. Developer Ebb Software is aiming straight for this “show, don’t tell” approach – something reflected in the storyline being yours to discover, bookended by a quick cutscene to tie it together.
Scorn takes place over five labyrinthine levels that interconnect. Each of these biomechanical areas feel like puzzles in themselves, as if by traversing them you are manipulating a grand design one lever at a time. Each discovery comes with its own cost, and often the currency is pain. I won’t ruin the fun, but suffice it to say that this upgrade path isn’t one you’ll soon forget.
Aesthetically it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about. H. R. Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński’s art styles blend…I’m hesitating to say “beautifully” as the whole affair is frankly disgusting from top to bottom. Just a word of warning: if you are unfamiliar with the work of those two gentlemen, then I’m going to tell you about three phobias you might want to be aware of before you tackle Scorn. The first is Taphophobia, which is the fear of being placed in a grave while still alive. Put simply, Scorn stacks bodies like cord wood, and that’s an understatement. Trypanophobia is the fear of needles and ties nicely into Tripophobia – a fear of holes in the skin, or holes in general. Scorn does one thing well, and that’s diligently work to turn your stomach. There’s a lot of you putting your things into other things, and then things putting their things into you. If any of that statement immediately makes your skin crawl, then brace yourself – that happens in Scorn on a pretty much constant basis. If you are a fan of this sort of horror, Scorn does it very, very well.
The primary gameplay loop of Scorn is exploration and puzzle solving, and that runs smack into one of the biggest advantages Scorn brings to the table. The entire world is alien, and as such you don’t often have any idea what you are looking at. More than once I’ve said “Uh….what is that?”, “Why am I doing this?”, “Why did I just stick my hand in that?!” and “All of these corridors look the same!”. The world was not designed for you. You are a meat puppet, and this world was created by things far larger than yourself. As such, you’ll frequently fumble your way through the linear progression of the game. As all of the worlds are interconnected, don’t get too stressed when you suddenly find yourself in a completely new environment despite having not “finished” the previous one. The world of Scorn is complex and interwoven. You are meant to feel lost, and that will either be a point of frustration or part of the allure – your mileage may vary.
There is one area where I doubt your mileage may vary – combat. A few hours into the game you’ll get a weapon (naturally, in the most disgusting way possible) that can dispatch foes at close range. Unfortunately for you, nearly every foe you come up against will be ranged. This means you’ll have to either dodge them or attempt to skirt past them. The areas where you encounter these beasts are often cramped choke points, which makes slipping away without conflict more difficult. You’ll get additional weapons, including some that are ranged, but like any good horror game, ammunition is as scarce as health stations. Those three things combined make for some frustrating moments and frequent game over screens.
Scorn’s story will take you somewhere between 5 and 7 hours to complete, depending on the amount of backtracking or circling around from being lost. The game auto-saves, so your deaths usually don’t set you back too far. Even at points where I felt frustrated by the combat, it was worth sticking with it to see just how far this twisted and bizarre rabbit hole full of awful goes. Seeing the intricate and interconnected biomechanical universe unfold and interlock kept me coming back, even if I did develop a nasty swearing habit about the ranged enemies.
Aesthetically disgusting, Scorn touches on several deep-seated phobias all at once, ensnaring you with its alien and disgusting universe. While the worldbuilding shines, the combat can be pure frustration. Come for the visceral stomach churn, and stick around for one of the stranger stories you’ll ever see. While the combat will frustrate, the setting is worth the fight.
- The aesthetics are disgusting biomechanical masses – it’s perfect.
- Unforgettable stomach-churning interactive moments
- An interconnected world feeding a massive puzzle
- Droning soundtrack is unsettling and subtle
- Alien world can be confusing to navigate
- Combat is frustrating
- Ammunition and health is painfully scarce