Scorn Review: A Tremendously Impressive Scary World With Sloppy Combat
Imagine fishing for hints in a sink full of unclean, smelly water. You keep bringing out a stranger and more confused things, and you don't want to go back in, but what you've found so far gets you intrigued about additional mysteries. Scorn is a first-person puzzle game about exploring a dead civilization's ruins. Inspired by H.R. Giger and Harlan Ellison‘s I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, it's more unnerving than scary. It can create powerful vibes.
Giger's work has appeared in video games directly (Dark Seed point-and-click games of the '90s) and indirectly (Alien video game adaptations). Giger died eight years ago, but we'd believe his ghost designed Scorn. Scorn offers one of the most ornately biomechanical landscapes we've seen in a game, seeming more like an Alien game than others. Every chamber, hallway, and expanse has weird, organic scenery. We can't define what we see, only that it's horrible and fascinating.
No switches, buttons, or keyholes in this game. Nothing else. Slots, holes, and wound-like notches to jam your fingers, hand, or even a disembodied arm into, with a satisfyingly awful squish. It's a deeply evocative, aesthetically impressive location, therefore we'd love to explore it in depth. The game distracts.
This amazing environment hosts a difficult and inane quest that involves puzzle-solving, battle, and aimless roaming (which is the biggest part). The player is placed into a strange universe and must figure out what to do. On paper, games like Myst have succeeded.
The best examples are games that gently and subconsciously help the player through their trip, making them feel like they've done it all themselves while in reality they've been given feather-light nudges throughout. Not here. Scorn is spent bumbling around, looking for interactive scenery. Even when you locate one, you can't always interact with it; you're often spurned with a tiny ‘no' symbol and must go on because it's not the correct moment to use that portion.
This flaw apart, the whole thing is so disappointing because Scorn's world should be admired. We'd love a VR version without scavenger hunts that let us explore each site (and at least the motion sickness would be justified). Or, to continue our analogy, give us the zoo instead of the event space.
Scorn runs on Steam Deck pretty well. Despite being so complex that the console version is only coming to Series X/S, the Steam Deck plays it brilliantly on Medium settings at 30fps and the dark environments still look great. We preferred playing it on the Deck with the lights out and headphones on (until we got stuck again and had to remind ourselves not to launch it against the wall).
We understand that some players will be more tolerant of Scorn's absence of signposting or subtle allusions. If you don't mind retracing and researching comparable squishy things until you locate one that squishes differently, add a point or two to the score.
As much as we loved Scorn's attention to detail and Giger-esque universe, we were upset that we couldn't enjoy exploring it.