Scorn review: Daring psychological horror game is barely half-formed

“Scorn impresses as a visible tribute to H. R. Giger, but half-formed gameplay hurt its horror greater than it helps.”


  • Striking art
  • Astonishing sound design
  • Some solid puzzles


  • Sparse shooting
  • Aggravating resource scarcity
  • Legibility issues

Scorn has three things on its mind: birth, death, and H. R. Giger.

Heavily inspired by the Swiss artist known for creating the long-lasting Alien Xenomorph, Scorn isn’t just occupied with imitating Giger’s biomechanical aesthetic for flattery’s sake. As a substitute, the developers at Ebb Software are desirous to engage with the thematic threads present in his work. It’s an unconventional horror game that explores birth trauma through a series of grotesque and nightmarish images, from claustrophobic flesh canals to bloated fetus monsters. Though taking the deeply personal works of a singular artist and turning them right into a genre video game feels a bit like squeezing a watermelon through a straw.

Scorn is in conversation with H. R. Giger’s art, but it surely’s playing a game of telephone. Despite nailing the aesthetic it’s going for with excellent sound design and striking visuals, it struggles to deliver the identical intimacy that makes Giger’s work so unsettling. Even when it does, Scorn’s artistic ambitions and its video game obligations are sometimes at odds with each other. Ebb Software makes daring design decisions here to attain the proper atmosphere, but those decisions make for a frustrating shooter and first-person puzzle game that never quite feels fully formed.

Birth trauma

Quite than delivering a transparent narrative, Scorn wants you to feel it in your bones. The “story” follows a skinless humanoid wandering some type of eerie alien world that appears like an H. R. Giger painting come to life. The horror game largely takes place in dark corridors that seem like the within a body. Veins and flesh run through its narrow passageways, as if it’s all a part of some giant being’s nervous system.

All of that is dropped at life with impressive visual design, as grotesquely detailed environments pump blood into its raw body horror.

While Scorn has an abstract narrative, its thematic throughlines are unmistakable. Most specifically, birth is a running visual motif through the sport right from its opening moments. Through my playthrough, I’d encounter ancient statues with glowing red wombs, have an alien parasite violently burrow into my stomach, and see an entire lot of phallic imagery. All of that is dropped at life with impressive visual design, as grotesquely detailed environments pump blood into its raw body horror. Though most notable of all is its astonishing sound design, filled with wet sloshing and ambient humming that profit from an awesome pair of headphones.

While it’s immediately impressive as a technical feat, Scorn might be thematically elusive early on. In its opening hours, I spent plenty of time questioning if there was much meat to its unsettling atmosphere. It’ll be easy to put in writing it off as hole gross-out horror, but that may be underselling what Ebb Software is aiming for here with its ambitious tone piece. Though to attach its disparate images, it’s possible you’ll wish to brush up in your H. R. Giger knowledge first.

Flesh lays strewn around a dark room in Scorn.

For some art critics, Giger’s work is as arresting because it is since it’s a raw projection of his subconscious mind. The artist notably had a difficult birth, one which required doctors to yank him out of his mother’s womb with forceps. Some theorize that Giger at all times carried that trauma with him, letting it bleed into his art. When viewed through that lens, plenty of his creepy imagery begins to make sense. His work is stuffed with fetuses, narrow passages that stretch like birth canals, and sterile mechanical instruments intersecting with the human body.

Scorn actually seems to know the appeal of Giger’s work and appears to interact with the ideas beneath the aesthetic. It’s a series of births and rebirths, with its nameless protagonist ripped out from its secure cocoon. Its horror comes from making players feel like a confused infant attempting to survive the unfamiliar nightmare they’ve just been violently and suddenly sucked into. While I can appreciate the way in which it bucks conventional storytelling to perform that, there’s a key layer missing. Giger’s work feels deeply intimate, allowing us to look directly into his mind and dissect it like psychiatrists. Scorn doesn’t carry that very same power, which may make its philosophical pondering about life and death feel detached from any emotion.

Nailing a vibe is one thing; replicating the deepest reaches of another person’s psyche is a much harder task that I’m undecided Scorn pulls off.

Gloom and doom

If it looks as if I’ve barely spent any time talking about Scorn’s actual gameplay, that’s since it’s the least interesting a part of the project. Its most evocative moments come from exploring the horrific world like an art gallery and its most frustrating ones come from actually playing. That’s because of a certain friction that arises between Ebb Software’s artistic vision and what makes for a game that plays well.

Scorn is somewhere between a survival horror game, a first-person shooter, and a sparse 3D puzzler. The shooter aspect is directly essentially the most under-developed and over-thought a part of that equation. Throughout the sport, players will interact with a small handful of enemy types. Players collect 4 weapons that may fend them off, which seem like the flesh guns from David Cronenberg’s Existenz. One functions like an engine piston that may bop enemies, while one other is more akin to a standard shotgun. Each weapon only operates at a really close range, nevertheless, which makes them feel functionally similar (except for the fourth weapon, which is hardly used because of how late its introduced). Shooting is so sparse in its execution that it left me wondering if it was added in later in development to provide the atmospheric puzzle game an infusion of economic appeal.

A character points a fleshy rifle at a creature in Scorn.

This isn’t an influence fantasy, so the shooting is supposed as more of a last-ditch line of defense. Shooting is a slow process and the reload button may as well be relabeled a suicide button when attempting to use it mid-fight, because it triggers a painfully slow animation. Ammo is incredibly scarce throughout, as bullets can only be replenished from a handful of one-time use stations. Health functions the identical way, as players carry a heart-like organ that has limited healing charges. In theory, these decisions should make encounters feel more intense as players are at all times hyper-aware of what number of resources they’ve left in any respect times.

In point of fact, the scarcity creates plenty of artificial frustration. Once I die and reload at a checkpoint, my health and ammo remain locked where they were on the time of save. On several occasions, I’d find myself loading in with one tick of health left and no healing charges. I’d spend minutes getting back to where I used to be, sitting through slow in-game cinematics, only to be killed by the identical acid-spitting enemy. With no method to return and up my resources, I simply needed to repeat that sequence until I made it through, replacing any good horror tension with the annoyance of getting to redo the identical section of a game well past the purpose of boredom.

It’s bogged down by underwhelming survival features that dampen the horror greater than they support it.

Scorn is a bit of stronger as a puzzle game, though its most engaging moments are few and much between. I used to be enthused by a few of its more traditional puzzles, like one which challenged me to accurately fit a cylindrical key right into a lock by moving its prongs, but brain-teasing moments like which can be fleeting. As a substitute, the sport largely relies on interaction puzzles that simply require pulling a lever or two in the precise order. Even with that imbalance, the puzzles are the one area where I can see Ebb Software’s identity shine through. There’s a robust atmospheric puzzle game hiding under the surface here, but it surely’s bogged down by underwhelming survival features that dampen the horror greater than they support it.

Illegible design

Maintaining the precise atmosphere appears to be a priority over nailing what’s expected of a video game, with design decisions all tracing back to an intended horror experience. That’s often to a fault. As an illustration, Scorn features barely any UI. A health and ammo bar pop up when aiming a gun, however the screen is otherwise unblemished. There are not any objective markers telling you where to go next, no map to reference, and no tutorial text explaining how anything works. It took me just a few hours to understand the sport had a healing system in any respect, which I only discovered by pausing the sport and seeing a “heal” button on the controller layout.

A good chunk of my playtime was spent walking around lost, afraid to shut the sport for fear I’d lose my mental map between sessions.

I imagine the goal here was to create a very immersive horror experience, however the side-effect is a more pressing legibility issue. It’s simply difficult to see what’s happening on screen or determine where the sport wants you to go next. Levels, as an illustration, are sometimes hard to navigate because of repetitive design. Snaking corridors can look indistinguishable from each other, which left me aimlessly walking forwards and backwards down the identical hallways until I discovered where I used to be alleged to go next. There’s plenty of dead space on the planet design, too, with empty nooks and crannies turning small levels into dull labyrinths.

When Scorn does provide visual information, it’s often imperceptible. It’s easy to miss interactable objects because of the incontrovertible fact that they’re only highlighted with tiny white circles. As I recounted in my Gamescom preview, one puzzle had me sliding around pods, placing one into the precise position so a hook could grab it. A demoist needed to indicate that the particular pod I needed to maneuver had a faint sliver of sunshine on it. With no accessibility options to assist ease moments like that, a superb chunk of my playtime was spent walking around lost, afraid to shut the sport for fear I’d lose my mental map between sessions.

A player in Scorn sticks their arm in a lever.

What’s difficult is that I can feel the intentional decisions behind Scorn’s low points. I get the sense that Ebb Software wants me to feel lost and stressed as I navigate its alien world. I’m alleged to wander the hallways wondering if I’ll ever escape the maze. Once I’m counting every bullet I even have left and praying for an ammo refill station around every corner, I imagine the experience is playing out as expected. But most of the time, those decisions left me desirous to escape the sport app itself relatively than the frightening world housed inside it.

Scorn is an unconventional and uncompromising psychological horror game that requires plenty of patience and a robust stomach to understand. There’s no easy gratification to be found here, as its disturbing imagery creates a grisly slow burn that games rarely dare to deliver. While I can respect what Ebb Software goes for here, I’m ultimately left feeling like its tribute to artists like H. R. Giger is simply too skin deep. Peel back its layers of aesthetic influence and also you’re left with a half-formed horror game that perhaps wasn’t quite done gestating.

Scorn was reviewed on PC.

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