Scorn isn’t your typical horror game, offering little to nothing in the way of traditional scares. It attempts to make up for this with feelings of dread born from its empty, confusing corridors, unforgiving difficulty, and incomprehensible puzzles. Unfortunately, the sheer lack of reward for solving these puzzles (outside of the relief that they’re finally done) results in the game feeling distinctly unpleasant and unlikeable throughout much of the experience.
Scorn is so difficult, it can feel almost impossible to get through on your own at times. Not just in terms of figuring out the game's puzzles, but also in regards to dealing with its clunky, woefully inefficient combat and frustrating checkpoint system. Playing Scorn felt akin to enduring a 10-hour Hellraiser-like torture session, which is a shame because the game’s aesthetic and creative ideas are certainly commendable.
Tentacles squelching wetly
Wandering through dark, labyrinthine halls in an alien world full of strange technology, I search for any sign or clue that might help me solve the latest puzzle I find myself stuck on. Everything is quiet save for the disquieting squelching sounds I’m treated to whenever my character sticks their hand, fist, or fingers into a lever or machine to activate it.
Searching for new things to interact with that may help me progress, I go back and forth through assorted map areas full of phallic architecture and machines designed for appendage insertion. While I feel lost and confused, I’m also mesmerized by the unusual situation my character has the misfortune of finding themselves in.
Aesthetically, the first thing Scorn reminded me of wasn’t one of the game’s primary influences, Swiss artist H.R. Giger, but rather some of the more intense “alien experiment” scenes from the 1993 film, Fire in the Sky. Scorn similarly features an odd assortment of biomechanical grotesqueries that you absolutely do not want to experience firsthand. That said, the Giger inspirations are the most prominent of Scorn's influences, particularly in the structure of the game’s alien machines, corridors, and buildings.
For all the problems and complaints I had while playing Scorn, I never felt let down by how Scorn marketed itself and how the final product turned out. You really do feel like you’re walking through a hostile, haunting Giger-esque alien world. One you can’t help but admire, even as you deal with the revulsion of figuring out how the game’s machines work.
For example, in the prologue you have to scavenge for a buddy to help you open a door. The process of acquiring this buddy and having them join you at the door is memorably brutal. Even the simple act of turning your hand into a key is presented in a way where you can’t help but wince and flinch away.
Scorn doesn’t fit as neatly into the horror genre as your fingers do in the game’s switches, being less scary and more strange to the point of background discomfort. Outside of H.R. Giger, Scorn’s presentation can also be compared to the works of Junji Ito. Specifically, Scorn shares the unfathomable “how is that even possible?” sort of body horror seen in Ito’s work, such as in the final image in his short story, The Enigma of Amigara Fault.
Scorn’s body contortions and distortions are as fascinating as they are disturbing, and are among the game’s greatest strengths. Unfortunately, the rest of the game fails to reach the heights of Scorn’s atmosphere with clunky combat and unfairly difficult puzzles.
Puzzle box of pain
Admittedly, I had an incredibly difficult time getting through Scorn, even as someone who’s played quite a few puzzle-based horror games over the years. Scorn can supposedly be completed in 5 to 6 hours on average. For me, it took well over 10 hours to reach the end due to an assortment of frustrating factors.
Notably, Scorn offers no map even for its larger map areas, no dialogue hints (or hints of any kind for that matter), no clearly defined instructions or objectives, no nothing. Puzzles aren’t solely related to activating switches and opening doors, either.
Instead, explorable areas can feel like a puzzle in and of themselves, with many forcing you to go back and forth between similar-looking rooms in order to progress. It’s easy to get turned around, though I will say that the game does attempt to give the player something to work with through the use of strategically placed lights and lighting effects.
Unfortunately, in map areas with multiple rooms with each having a light above them for example, this does little to help one piece together where they’ve been, and where they need to go next. Scorn also tries to help the player by making its machines singular events. Once you solve a machine, you won’t be able to interact with it again. For example, if you return to the same spinning lock you solved earlier wondering if there’s more to it that you might’ve missed, you won’t be able to interact with it which can help you pinpoint what you’ve done, and what’s left to be completed.
As you progress you’ll also become familiar with certain systems, which teases you into thinking that things may get a bit easier with time. This isn’t the case. Around the halfway point, Scorn introduces combat and it's some of the worst I’ve ever had to suffer through in a game.
Welcome to Hell
Combat problems in Scorn start when you acquire a weapon with a retractable spike prod (the game’s weapons aren’t given names so I’ll just call it the Spike Prod). The Spike Prod is fine for things like popping floating foes but practically useless against every other enemy type. It’s incredibly weak and slow, which wouldn’t be so bad if the Spike Prod had even the slightest amount more range.
It forces you to get up close and personal with enemies, and this also wouldn’t be so bad if these foes weren’t able to off you with a few near-impossible to avoid hits. Some enemies and combat encounters you can stealthily evade, others you can’t. To make matters worse, the game’s checkpoint system is a source of frustration all its own. An example of this is when I encountered an enemy in a corridor I had no choice but to pass in order to continue to the next area.
My health had already been halved at this point thanks to the parasitic creature that had attached itself to my character. One that would dig its hands into my stomach every so often, inflicting damage each time and bringing me closer and closer to death. I had nothing left to heal me, and no way to double back to the previous area to search for ways to heal. All I had was the Spike Prod.
As I tried to strategically use the Spike Prod and then back away, I found myself continuously bested and sent back to a previous checkpoint. Over and over and over again I repeated the process until I was finally able to get past… only to find myself facing yet another enemy I had no choice but to fight in order to continue to the next area.
Even when you acquire different weapons in Scorn, you’ll still run into bothersome enemy encounters that feel unfair and a real struggle to get past. As hard as the game’s puzzles are, I likely would have enjoyed Scorn quite a bit more if the combat wasn’t so bad. Or, if the checkpoints made it easier to strategically approach the game’s combat encounters.
The definition of the word Scorn is “open dislike and disrespect” and in that, it’s accurate as I certainly felt an open dislike for Scorn while playing it. Individual aspects of the game such as its aesthetic are commendable, but when combined with the game’s laundry list of issues, it’s hard to recommend Scorn.
If you love H.R. Giger, unsettling body horror such as those seen in the works of Junji Ito, or creepy alien experimentation scenes from films like Fire in the Sky, you’ll undoubtedly appreciate Scorn’s overarching concept. Sadly the execution leaves much to be desired, which is a shame as I feel like Scorn could have been a real standout as far as atmospheric horror games go.
This review is based on a PC (Steam) copy of Scorn supplied by the publisher. Scorn is available as of October 14, 2022 for platforms including Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Windows PC.
- Unsettling atmosphere reminiscent of H.R. Giger
- Unique machines and puzzle designs
- Memorable body horror experience
- Brutally punishing, overcomplicated puzzles
- Clunky combat bogged down by ineffective weapons
- Unforgiving checkpoint system
- Disorienting map layouts with too much back and forth exploration required
Morgan Shaver posted a new article, Scorn review: Everything hurts and I'm dying
Gotta love your title for this review
I agree with pretty much everything here other than the puzzle complexity. IMO the puzzles were super easy other than the first major one and even that one wasn't particularly hard. It was pretty obvious what you needed to do.
That, combined with everything else in the review made me super glad this is on Game Pass so anyone that's interested can try it out and then move on to anything else on the service that's significantly more enjoyable without paying $30 to play it. Especially since there's zero replay value.
"a 10-hour Hellraiser-like torture session"
AKA watching Hellraiser 3-8 back to back.
3 was the one with the Compact Disc Cenobite? That's when I checked out
I gotta admit, the Pinhead WW1 History one was interesting from a lore standpoint, yet was still an awful film.
AND Pinhead's arrival, and that opening slaughter was FINE. Then CD Ceno shows up and we done, fam.
Free on Gamepass - 9.5/10 game.
$15 - 8.5/10 game.
$40 Steam - 5/10 game.
Those puzzles weren't difficulty at all! I'd imagine you would get destroyed by the likes of Baba is You or The Witness. Price aside, I thought it was a solid 8/10 game. Just like the highlight of Quake 4's stroggification process back in 2005, Scorn puts you through a gauntlet of uncomfortable literal fleshed-out environments with some of the most soul-numbing animations to tickle your brain as you traverse through the gloriously artistic ambient muck. The combat may have been dry but made for a decent challenge atop an exploration-focused title with puzzles to gatekeep you from the next section.
Stop and smell the roses, or in this case smell the fleshy goodness. I'm a seasoned boomer shooterer and found the game to be a breath of fresh air despite receiving so much backlash for "lackluster" gameplay.