Scorn, one of the most unique-looking titles to release in 2022, was heavily inspired by the artwork of two artists you’re probably unintentionally familiar with. H.G. Geiger and Zdzisław Beksiński.
Geiger was the visionary visual artist for the original Alien movie, and Zdzisław Beksiński reached internet fame with his confusing, grotesque, and darkly expressive paintings.
The game featured in this Scorn review is what would happen if those two artists met and had a baby and that baby grew up to be a video game designer with a weird kink for pregnant aliens. Scorn is a confusing, dark journey through a confusing, dark world that ends with a cutscene open to player interpretation.
Nothing is spelled out, there’s no dialogue, and at no point will the game attempt to explain a damn thing. We lost track of how many times we asked ourselves, “What the hell is that?” in the first 30 mins of the game.
I have braved this twisted alien Hellscape so you don’t have to. So kick back as I explore the game that could be summed up perfectly as “H.G. Geiger’s wet dream.”
Welcome to Hell
While the gameplay of Scorn may get considerably boring considerably fast, the visuals do not. There is more detail packed into a single square foot of Scorn than in entire regions of Call of Duty titles. There’s so much to look at and take in.
Regarding the delegation of resources, it’s clear that Ebb Software put the vast majority of theirs behind designing the visuals of Scorn. Story, gameplay, and every other game aspect take a backseat approach. The visuals, though? They got the VIP treatment.
It’s undeniable who the inspirations are for the creation of Scorn’s unique environment, and I can only imagine that both artists would be proud to see what their creations have wrought. But it’s for this reason that I argue Scorn isn’t much of a game but rather an interactive exhibit for people to explore briefly. The game can be beaten in a handful of hours, there are no collectibles or secrets to uncover, and the combat is lackluster at best.
The visuals, though? VIP all day.
If you want to have a chance at deciphering the alien nonsense in Scorn, you’ll need to pay attention to the visuals. The settings and environments of Scorn are as much a character as the protagonist, and they hint at what the hell is going on here.
At the beginning of the game, everywhere you go seems sick. Decaying flesh hangs in strings from machinery, fungal-like growths spring up in the corners of rooms, and it’s eerily quiet. The only noise is a low-level hum that might be from a power source somewhere in the distance. As you continue your journey, you’ll find places that are either sicker–that flesh is colored an ill-looking yellow, those fungal growths are exuding a cloud of spores. Or healthier, where there are no fleshy patches to be seen. It’s just stone and alien craftsmanship.
The visuals of Scorn are clearly the best aspect of the game. Watching the surroundings change tells a story on its own. And considering the visuals got the brunt of the resources, the story they have to tell may be the main story of Scorn.
Doing Stuff in a Painscape
The gameplay, the meat of any good game, should not be overlooked during development.
The gameplay of Scorn feels overlooked.
Scorn’s gameplay can be broken down into a series of alien puzzles divided by periods of running. That’s about it. It’s like dealing with one big, flesh-covered Chinese finger trap while running a marathon.
There is combat, but it feels forced, like it doesn’t belong in Scorn. Scorn would have been better off as interactive art, minus the guns. Because of its poor design and frustratingly low quality, the combat shouldn’t have been included. The game would have delivered its nightmarish experience more directly without the lackluster combat.
It would have lent to the sense of immersion; the feeling of hopelessly exploring a desolate Hell in search of answers and finding none. Instead, when you get your first weapon–a massive, alien hole-puncher–you think you’re about to start facing down hordes of enemies. In reality, you use your weapons more as tools than, well, weapons.
Scorn is really nothing more than a jogging simulator set in Hell. Some of the puzzles are interesting in their design, but they have wildly different difficulties and unforgiving mechanics. Hell, the first puzzle in the game is one of the hardest. And since the game divulges nothing about its story, there’s no way to tell if the difficulty of that puzzle is significant in any way.
Disappointing, frustrating, and poorly designed, the gameplay of Scorn leaves much to be desired.
Pop Quiz: What does Hell sound like?
Is there music? Is it just weird noises? Is there a lot of screaming?
Well, the sounds of Scorn’s Hell do a good job of immersing players further in its atmosphere. There’s no music to get you pumped while exploring Scorn, and no dramatic string sections will begin to play during emotional moments. The soundtrack of Scorn is made up of strange rumblings and distorted sounds. But they’re crafted in a way that feels alien somehow. Hearing music while exploring Scorn would’ve felt off. The alien rumblings and distorted bangs feel right at home in Scorn.
The weirdest thing is that the version of Scorn I purchased came with a soundtrack for the game. 17 tracks. 17 tracks of pure nonsense. Who wants to listen to an alien Hell for 17 tracks? Why is that even a thing?
Story? What Story?
The story of Scorn is ambiguous, confusing, and open to interpretation. Just like most art. Again, this is another reason I say Scorn is interactive art.
While there is no direct story in Scorn, there are implied themes for those with an observant eye. Pain, childbirth, perseverance, and infection are all heavy themes that exist throughout Scorn. But you have to look for them.
There is no obstacle in Scorn that can be overcome painlessly. Everything you do to progress your journey in Scorn is tied to pain, either your own pain or the pain of another living being. The first item you interact with is a machine that drills a techno-organic device into your arm. Blood drips from your forearm as you examine the new bling–a mix between a bracelet and a gaudy ring. But this new addition to your anatomy is the only thing that allows you to operate doors, elevators, and other machinery. So, with pain comes progress.
That theme is revisited over and over again throughout Scorn. Without pain, no progress. With pain, progress. That pain is sometimes your own, and you’ll watch your max health drop ever so slightly. Or that pain you will inflict on another being. In the fourth act of the game, players will encounter a giant being that has grown around the elevator they need to take.
The being is sentient and knows you must access the elevator, but it also knows it must die for you to do so. As you go about unlocking the chamber and opening the elevator, you cut massive chunks of flesh out of this being. You can see it shiver and writhe in pain. And yet you both know the pain must continue if progress is to be made.
The theme of childbirth is also heavily displayed throughout the game. It’s slightly cryptic at the beginning of the game, as the symbolism is mixed in with all the weird, organic machine imagery. But as you near the end and see statues of pregnant women in every room, it becomes obvious.
You install eggs into automatons like you’re making a pregnant robot, you watch beings birthed from flowers and eggs, and the sexual imagery is on every door you encounter. You even wake up as a character entombed in a sci-fi womb, umbilical cord still attached and all.
However, coupled with the themes of childbirth are themes of stillbirth and miscarriage. You are, after all, the sole survivor of your species. Broken eggs and aborted bodies are littering even the cleanest of chambers.
And that sick feeling that permeates the entire atmosphere–the sickly flesh, the parasitic creatures, the malformed enemies you face–all come with this feeling that they turned out wrong. That they were meant to be something else, something more.
Despite getting downright intimate with copious amounts of pain, having no idea where you are, and lacking a voice, your character perseveres. They push onward even after a parasitic lifeform has hijacked their body. Even after your character has lost buckets of blood, they continue. Even after your character has had his brain hooked up to a hive mind and his innards disemboweled, he never gives up.
This is a truly heroic feat that’s undertaken by the protagonist. They may be the last of their kind, but they don’t give up. They are surrounded by nothing but death, decay, and disease, and yet somehow, they push onward.
Perhaps hope doesn’t even play a role. Perhaps the desire to push on is an inherited tribute to these alien creatures. Like baby Sea Turtles compelled to rush toward the ocean, these emaciated aliens are compelled to explore a wasteland and find its secrets.
But then again, who knows? The game tells us none of this.
Infection. Sickness. Disease. Whatever term you decide to call it, it’s killing this once great alien civilization. Whether this sickness was brought up by something the aliens did or just nature running its wicked course is not determined. But it’s clear to see that not only is our character infected with something, but the land is equally sick.
Since inanimate objects are covered with flesh and bones in Scorn, everything looks vaguely human, vaguely alive. The door console, the light switch, and just about every bit of machinery you come across looks like a body part. And the more you look, those body parts all seem sick.
As you reach the last few areas of Scorn, you’ll start to see what the environment looked like before the infection. It helps show players just how far this civilization has fallen.
So, when you combine all the themes and study all the different symbols and iconography throughout the twisted Hellscape, you can come to a general idea of what’s happening in Scorn.
And it’s not good.
The alien race we play as is all but extinct. Despite their technological prowess, it seems their enemy–this sentient parasitic growth we see everywhere–was too formidable. This alien race built massive machines and complicated hardware specifically to keep this parasite out of their home, but it was all for naught.
This alien race foresaw their impending doom and sought to stave it off. They designed mechanical surgeons to cut off parasitic growths from their species, invented artificial wombs and birthing chambers to save their species, and put all their hope into one last mass attempt at pregnancy. They hoped to birth enough members of their race free from parasites that they could reestablish their society.
Alas, it was hopeless. And despite doing everything asked of you–and more–Scorn ends the way it begins: in a barren, desolate Hellscape devoid of life.
For me, the replay value of Scorn sits at a whopping zero.
The game is not what it was advertised to be. The game was billed as survival horror. It’s not. And try as I might, I can’t seem to get over that initial disappointment.
The game is short-lived, confusing, and unpolished.
While walking through an interactive art exhibit inspired by H.G. Geiger sounds pretty damn awesome, doing it with lame combat and no direction whatsoever is not awesome.
If you’re looking for an immersive, mysterious experience with an ambiguous story linked to the environments you explore, you absolutely need to check out the Amnesia series. Amnesia is a trilogy of games that feature a dynamic setting, immersive storytelling, and mysteries to unravel. There is no combat, players will have to use their wits to outsmart and avoid the hungry denizens of each universe.
Amnesia plays like a more focused Scorn. While the visuals aren’t nearly as stunning, their storytelling capacity is.
Another game that feels like a more polished Scorn is Poppy’s Playtime. It’s a true survival horror franchise. There are puzzles all throughout Poppy’s Playtime, but they’re good. They’re well-designed, thought-out, meaningful puzzles that play into the narrative. Also, some of the jump scares are truly terrifying.
But if you’re looking for a genuinely intense survival horror title that will give you chills; if you’re looking for body horror to end all body horror; if you want to play a game that wrote the book on modern survival horror video games, play Dead Space.
If I was in a less generous mood, it would be closer to 2/10.
There’s little to enjoy in Scorn. The visuals are impressive, that can’t be overstated. The art style will be remembered for years to come, and I’m positive Scorn will inspire a new wave of twisted body horror titles soon. But hopefully, all those new titles learn from Scorn’s mistakes.
Question: How long is the main story of Scorn?
Answer: I beat it in under 6 hours. The game features five acts, each with a different environment. But none of them take that long to figure out.
Question: How many weapons are in Scorn?
Answer: Players will get to use four different weapons in Scorn. The alien hole-puncher mentioned earlier, a single-shot pistol, a buckshot shotgun, and a grenade launcher.
Question: Did that ending make any sense to you?
Answer: Yes. Sort of. See, it’s all about those themes I mentioned earlier—pain, stillbirth, sickness, and perseverance. Even though the protagonist must be in excruciating pain (think, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream) and has succumbed to the sickness, has become yet another stillbirth in the womb of his species, he still perseveres.
What Was It All For?
In the end, having defeated the final “boss” of Scorn and contemplated the closing cutscene with the grim literary dissection it deserves, I can appreciate what the developers produced. I am disappointed they put flat-out lies in the game’s description (I never “acquired different skill sets” or found the “open-ended world” they promised), but I can still appreciate their creation.
The way they told their story through pure atmosphere, artistic design, and setting is impressive. That level of detail belongs in a museum, not on Steam.
That said, my appreciation mostly ran dry after the first hour of running around. And it’s obvious they should’ve ignored combat. And they probably should’ve released some sort of companion feature to explain the story a bit more.
And I really didn’t need to see an alien’s dick while playing a video game.
All of that makes Scorn a unique experience but not a must-play by any means. It’s worth Googling so you can see the trippy art style. It’s not worth purchasing.
Unless you’re the illegitimate offspring of H.G. Geiger and Zdzisław Beksiński and you have a thing for pregnant aliens.
I played Scorn on PC. I played 2.5 hours before I had to put it down and decide if I wanted to keep playing this glorified walking simulator.
After regrouping, I came back to beat the game at 5.6 hours. Even went back to get better pictures.
Now that I know what to do, I could probably beat the game in 4 hours or less. Yes, you really spend several hours worth of gameplay just wandering around. With that phase taken out, you could beat this game in a short afternoon.
Looking for Indie goodness? Look no further:
- Serial Cleaners Review
- Roadwarden Review – Civil Servant Vs Fantasy Wilderness
- Session: Skate Sim Review
- Scorn Review: Twisted, Macabre, and Boring - November 4, 2022
- Thymesia PC Review:A Unique Spin on Soulslike Combat - August 21, 2022