Over the last couple of weeks, Scorn and I have developed something of a contentious relationship. I like Scorn, but we have had an ongoing conversation where I try to figure things out, and Scorn…well…scorns me. Every time I try to be reasonable, Scorn goes full psycho.
Me: “Oh, I’ve found a friend. He’s following me around. He’s ugly and makes gross noises, but he’s also kind of lovable with the way he shuffles around and falls down a lot. I’m going to name him ‘Man-Ball’.”
Scorn: “Shove his hand in that thing! You have to kind of rip his fingers! Listen to him scream! Do you love his screams?”
Me: “I think I can probably make my way through this mist to the other side.”
Scorn: “Haha. You are dead. You didn’t even know you could die in this game. Guess what? You can. Start the level over, bitch.”
Scorn has often horrified me, and just as often made me laugh. Sometimes both at once:
Me: “I would like to go through the middle vaginal tube, but it seems as though it is blocked by a heaping pile of rotting dead bodies.”
Scorn: “What you have to do, see, is turn a few cranks and flood that vaginal tube with green acidic lube. That will melt/flush the bodies right out of there, like a big demonic space-douche. By the way, they probably aren’t all dead. Look closely at them while they get slooshed away, you can kind of see them twitch and scream. Haha.”
Me: “Good lord, Scorn.”
Scorn: “Shut the hell up.”
Of course, Scorn doesn't really talk to me. It's all in my head, where Scorn has taken up permanent residence, redecorating the place with an ectoplasmic sheen. It’s tough to fully describe just how goopy Scorn really is. The entire game is covered with a fleshy coating of pus and grime, punctuated with occasional bursts of aggressive violence and a hysterically bad attitude. My emotions were all over the place while playing – swerving madly from revulsion to frustration and then doing a complete 180 into hysterical laughter. It’s rare that a game has had such a visceral impact on me, but more than once, I caught myself muttering “Oh, Jesus Christ” under my breath as Scorn coated the screen in a blast of blood and mucus.
Scorn has very little time for your candy-ass feelings. There aren’t many games that steadfastly refuse to explain themselves to you the way that Scorn does. I was well over halfway through the game before I realized that I had gained the ability to heal myself a little, and I only figured that out because I noticed the button to do so on the screen that shows the game’s controls. I learned I could run the same way. And don’t expect any hints or help; if you are having trouble moving forward, Scorn is just gonna leave you there to rot.
The flow of Scorn is utterly unique. For a game that is feels as open as Scorn does, the experience is actually surprisingly linear. The only way to move forward in Scorn is to solve its puzzles, and there is really only one way to do so (most of the time). I’m guessing that speedrunners are going to move in on Scorn almost immediately, as there is likely a quickest, most direct route through the game. But unless you cheat and hop online for answers, it’ll take you hours of poking around and getting grossed out to determine what that route is.
The game is divided into Acts, but that really only comes into play when you are looking at your save files. Though you feel a natural progression when you move from one act to another, there are no words that pop up on screen to announce that you have left Act II and arrived in Act III. Instead, you just kinda find yourself in a new area with stuff you haven’t seen before.
The first couple of acts are primarily exploration and puzzle driven, a fleshy high-tech version of Myst. The player wanders the many gaping-anal-cavity corridors, fiddling around with biomechanical gadgets, trying to figure out what they do and how they work together. Things start simple enough, but quickly escalate to the point where I was rubbing my temples in concentration. I never got outright stuck, but I did spend a fair amount of time engaging in trial and error before the way forward revealed itself. I’ve a feeling that this part of the game is intended to lull you into a false sense of security.
About 1/3 of the way through the game, little enemies start appearing. I liked to call these guys “leg-turds” and “bird-turds”. When they appeared, I had already obtained a weapon of sorts, which also functions as a tool in certain puzzles – a weird little drill/jackhammer thing that could do slight damage to enemies if you get really, really close. I figured the game wanted me to fight these guys. I figured wrong. After numerous untriumphant deaths, I realized that the best course of action was to avoid the enemies at all costs, at least until I got my hands on a real weapon.
As the game goes on, combat becomes more prevalent, but never at the expense of the game’s puzzles. I almost felt as though I was working around the combat in order to get at the puzzles, which I considered to be the “good” part of the game. The combat felt as though it was intended to slow me down, adding to the running time of the game without contributing much beyond some tension. It’s not bad, but in many cases I just wanted the enemies to get the heck out of the way so I could get back to the business at hand.
Speaking of getting back to the business at hand, players might be frustrated with the number of times they find themselves repeating said business. The checkpoint system, particularly in the mid-game when deaths are quick and unforgiving, leaves a lot to be desired. Much like the rest of Scorn, it is harsh, bordering on punitive. Saving and returning to the game often starts you right where you left off, but expect to repeat a significant portion of content you’ve already completed if you are killed. Scorn’s checkpoints often made me curse, and not in delight. In fact, they are the largest strike against an otherwise unique and rewarding game.
I’m not going to bother trying to speak to the storyline of Scorn, other than to say that there will be a lot of YouTube videos piecing together what took place in this desolate gore pit and what it all means. Don’t expect to come away with a clear understanding of what is happening. Nothing is ever spelled out for the player, but there were quite a few moments that had me stumbling into some crazy scene and wondering what the hell happened there. There was no shortage of questions running through my mind while playing Scorn. Why were these bodies falling out of this chute? Why is everyone so deformed? Are those tubes everything is using for transportation arteries? Is that thing pooping babies?
What I will speak to is the overall mood and tone of Scorn, which is unlike anything I have seen in gaming. The game is inspired by the artwork of H.R. Giger, and you can see that influence everywhere you look, but Scorn feels as though it was designed by Giger on his worst, most depraved day. If Giger designed a game on the morning after a vodka bender during which he witnessed an alleyway strangling, with a hangover spiking through his brain and his fingernails peeled back from scratching at the wall in the throes of withdrawal, Scorn might be that game. For a while I was reminded of the ship John Hurt explored in Alien, but then I realized that I would rather be on the Alien ship than wherever Scorn takes place. At least Kane makes it back to the Nostromo for a couple of minutes of normalcy.
The humor that does emerge from the world of Scorn is the darkest I’ve seen in ages. I must confess to embarrassing myself with several outbursts of “Oh my God, what am I looking at”-style laughter, as the game can be so over the top that it can momentarily shock a stunned reaction out of the player. I wish some of my horror movie loving buddies from earlier in life were still around, because we would have had a blast wandering the urethras of Scorn, laughing at the freaky sights and working together to overcome the puzzles.
Players will have a variety of experiences with Scorn. Some will play with friends and laugh their way through it. Some will be repulsed by the imagery, while others will shrug. Some will not think twice about the puzzles, while others will struggle mightily to figure out how to move ahead. People will be disgusted, amused, frustrated, and delighted. But I can confidently say that no one will be bored.
Full of body horror and psychotically twisted imagery, players will have a variety of reactions to Scorn, but they are unlikely to be bored. While the game’s world building and puzzle design are top-notch, the combat and a punitive checkpoint system may turn some players off. Regardless, the big swing by developer Ebb Software definitely pays off. There are no other games on the market quite like Scorn.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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