Scorn Review

Three things I like about this game, and two I don't

By Paul Hunter

The wait is over! I've been looking forward to playing Scorn since the Xbox Series X version was announced two years ago (the game is also on PC). The creepy trailers with H.R. Giger-inspired visuals, meat weapons and blood-soaked combat certainly looked intriguing. Plus, it's day one on Xbox Game Pass, so as a subscriber it was a no-brainer to check out this anticipated game.

Now I'll admit I went into this game totally wrong. I was under the impression, from the various trailers I've seen at Xbox showcase events, that Scorn was going to be a macabre adventure game with plenty of juicy and visceral combat. But wow was I off base; it's actually a puzzle game with very light combat. My expectations were way off but did I still enjoy the game? Let's dive in and see, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: Unsettling Visuals

Scorn is a total visual delight if you enjoy unpleasant environments and sights reminiscent of Alien. A good chunk of the game takes place in entirely organic interior mazes covered in what looks like parasitic flesh that's slowly consuming the presumably human or human-like civilization that once built these imposing metallic and concrete fortresses. Fleshy tentacles hang from the ceiling, pulsating organic matter drapes the walls and oddly phallic-looking pipes drip god knows what from them. And then there are the rotting corpses of things I can only imagine what they looked like alive, along with grotesque creatures fused to the walls and floors by horrific organic masses. Scorn is meant to shock you with its disgusting sights, and it does quite an excellent job of doing that.

Scorn is a fairly short experience lasting around 5-6 hours across five zones with each having its own creepy vibe and visual flair to them. So much attention to detail went into each area and for me, that was reason alone to push my way through this oppressive game. I mean, everything just looks so gloriously grotesque. Rooms might have elaborate organic sculptures or organic murals, or odd alien devices unlike anything I've seen before, or huge organic creatures that make this decaying world seem oddly alive. I ended up taking 100+ screenshots during my adventure because the gooey, gory surroundings were just begging to be photographed.

Even your weapons are gruesomely designed with organic material making them look more like living creatures than actual guns. Swapping guns involves you ripping apart the fleshy guns and attaching new organic components to them. The way you reload weapons is also sickening fun: you carry around a tentacled spider pal with organic bullets and shotgun shells embedded in its flesh, which you pluck out and mush into your guns. That same creepy spider also replenishes health, performed by inserting the creature's blood into your veins. A+ effort for the visual, Scorn is simply breathtaking to look at.

Liked: Mind Messing Story

Scorn cutscenes do not feature any dialogue at all, and the entire story is conveyed through unsettling moments and the environment, which the developers have referred to as a character itself. The game purposely leaves a lot to your imagination: What was the original purpose of these imposing structures? Why is your protagonist risking their life to reach the surface? How did this world succumb to all organic parasitic matter? None of these questions are answered in any concrete way, but everyone who plays Scorn will likely have their theories.

One of the main plot points, the most interesting I think, is early in chapter two a boney centipede-like creature latches onto your spine and slowly over the rest of the game digs at your stomach while tree root-like fungus bursts from your body. It's incredibly unsettling but does an amazing job of adding mystery and intrigue to the game's story.

The environmental storytelling is superb, too, reminiscent of the greats like BioShock or Dark Souls. Every area I progressed to filled my head with questions about what all these foreign contraptions and gigantic machines were originally designed for. You also get the real sense that some society lived here ages ago, creating an intricate transportation maze leading to a truly unsettling final outcome. The amount of rich detail that went into each area is fantastic and achieves its purpose of making you think and wonder what secrets this messed up world is hiding.

Liked: Most of the Puzzles

As I mentioned at the onset, I was surprised to find that Scorn is essentially an adventure puzzle game. All five of the chapters have one large central puzzle to solve, with a handful of sub-puzzles to solve before the final challenge awaits you. And the majority of these level-end puzzles were both taxing and really fun to complete.

I'll fully admit it, too; some aspects of these puzzles were frustrating, very frustrating. There were at least a couple of occasions where I was close to shutting off the game and trying again later. Part of this is because you're given absolutely no instructions whatsoever and not even a faint hint of help. The game purposely punishes you and actively wants you to brute force push yourself until figuring it out. If you don't enjoy puzzles or do but like when games guide you to the answer, Scorn is absolutely not the game for you. This is a game for those that grew up playing adventure games like Myst or Maniac Mansion, or more recent titles like The Talos Principle where there's zero hand-holding and potentially lots of aimless wandering or trial and error.

Scorn contains plenty of mechanical and sequential movement puzzles that require you to move around objects in specific ways or in a certain order to solve them. And a lot of them (especially the Chapter 3 puzzle!) could make your teeth grit because they're just that hard to solve. But they're not impossible, with enough persistence you'll likely figure them out, even if sometimes it can feel like dumb luck. Overall, though, I thought the puzzles hit that sweet spot of being very challenging, but also doable and very satisfying to finally solve.

Didn't Like: The Combat, Why?

Over the last two years, every time I saw Scorn trailers at big Xbox events like E3, the game appeared to have a fair bit of combat. But really, it only ended up being maybe 5% of the experience, and potentially even less since most enemies you can simply run past. But even that small bit of gunplay ended up fairly bland at best and totally frustrating at its lowest point.

Let's take your starting gun, basically a mini jackhammer that can attack all of two times before a very unreasonable cooldown period. And of course, lots of the early enemies take four or five attacks to die, meaning a frustrating cycle of attacking, running away for 20 seconds while your gun recharges, then repeating. It's just boring, and unfun. In Chapter two you can find a pistol, thankfully, but it's also entirely missable—and I did miss it originally, then had to reload an earlier save point and redo about 25 minutes' worth of puzzles.

After I obtained the pistol, I was unimpressed with how inaccurate the gun is, how limited your bullets are, and how long it takes to reload it. I get why though: the developers wanted even the combat to be tense and frustrating, but come on. Even swapping guns take an exorbitant amount of time. Simply put, there's literally nothing fun about the combat, it's a total slog and the game would have been better without it.

Didn't Like: Aimless Wandering

The puzzles in Scorn? Mostly great. But reaching the final puzzle in each chapter can sometimes involve way too much aimless wandering. In the first chapter, I spent at least 15 minutes walking back and forth through the same hallways over and over again looking for a spot to insert a severed hand. It turns out it was some random slot in the wall in some random hallway.

I figured it out, sure, but it's disappointing that the game offered absolutely no hint whatsoever of where I should be looking. In most games, areas of interest would have usual lighting that draws your eye or distinct objects that help guide you towards the right path. But nope, not in Scorn; the game clearly loves it when you have absolutely no idea what to do next.

And that's really my biggest frustration with Scorn. I just finished completing Resident Evil 4, a game that was released in 2005, and even back then horror games would give you panning shots of new rooms to help clue you in, use lighting to help direct you, have a map to keep tabs of where you are, and had notes with clues to solving puzzles. Scorn does none of that, and intentionally aims to frustrate you. I get it from an artistic standpoint, but that still doesn't make it any more palatable as a player.

The Verdict

Scorn frustrated the heck out of me at times, but the world and art style are so darn interesting I just had to push myself forward. And while it was tough at times, I'm glad I made it all the way through. This is a very unique experience offering disturbing-yet-breathtaking visuals and a story that will make you think during and long after it's over. If you can stomach the grotesque and handle tough puzzles, Scorn will reward you with an adventure unlike any on the market today.

Final Score: 7/10 - Good

Scorn details

Platform: Xbox Series X|S, PC
Developer: Ebb Software
Publisher: Kepler Interactive
Genre: Horror, Adventure, Puzzle
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

The game was downloaded for review via Xbox Game Pass.