Do you remember going to Halloween parties as a kid where someone made you close your eyes and feel a bowl of peeled grapes, telling you they were eyeballs? Or that a bowl of spaghetti was a bunch of brains? Each thing you touched was a vile mystery, making you both disoriented and disgusted. This is the kind of horror that sticks with me longer than any jumpscares or haunted houses: the psychological terror of the unknown.
Developed by indie team Ebb Software, “Scorn” understands this type of horror well, using it to immerse players in its nightmarish world. The game begins with your character disconnecting themself from some sort of parasitic machine, and from there you are free to roam around. There’s no explanation for where you are or who you might be, but you can gather from your surroundings that you must be in some version of hell.
The environment of “Scorn” is both beautiful and disturbing. There are towering cathedrals, twisting stone staircases and strange operating rooms with menacing buzzsaws and brain-scooping devices. The game takes heavy inspiration from the works of H.R. Giger, the legendary artist who designed the xenomorphs from the “Alien” franchise. As you traverse through the world, his self-described “biomechanical” art style is brought to life with fleshy cobwebs hanging from every ceiling and strange red, pulsing tubes reminiscent of intestines running along the floors.
The game’s sound design is another great addition to the atmosphere. An ambient soundtrack accompanies you as you explore, which starts to sound like white noise as time goes on. This gives the game a very womb-like feeling, which is perfect considering your surroundings. Strange groaning noises and muffled shouts help to guide you along your way, although their sources aren’t always clear; then again, not much in “Scorn’”s world is.
As you wander around you’ll find strange devices to interact with, but you’re left completely in the dark as to what they do. A lot of these are levers that require you to insert your fingers into sinewy slots to pull them, allowing you to control something in the room. This might be a giant crane that helps you move an object or a drone that flies around. The game’s main objective lies in trying to figure out how to use these devices to unlock a path to the next area. I don’t know what it is with horror games having some of the most frustrating puzzles known to man, but some of the ones in here really tripped me up. I’m no stranger to weird puzzles, but I spent over 20 minutes on one in particular that required me to spin a series of stone dials until I aligned them all perfectly. Although I understand that “Scorn” is supposed to make you scared and confused, this just broke my immersion and made me want to bang my head against the wall.
If the world of “Scorn” is compelling enough for you to get immersed in, you’ll enjoy your play-through exploring every squishy nook and squelching cranny. But if you are expecting a gory romp through hell like in the latest games in the “Doom” series, you’re going to be disappointed. There is some combat, but the sloppy mechanics make for an experience too frustrating to enjoy. While the clunky combat in horror games like “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” adds to the horror by making the player feel helpless, it feels like an afterthought in “Scorn.” Thankfully, you can usually avoid the headache of having to fight by just running past your enemies.
All told, it’s hard to call “Scorn” a traditional horror game. There’s just a handful of jumpscares, and its attempts at incorporating survival mechanics like limiting your supplies feel forced. As you progress you get a health and ammunition pack, which you can refill at supply stations along the way. However, thanks to the clunky combat, I never felt any sense of urgency when either of these things ran out. It’s almost as if the developers felt they had to include these things to make the game fit into the category of horror. Instead, it can and should stand on its own as a sort of carnal theme park ride. If you’re just looking for a cool take on H.R. Giger’s work and don’t mind the frustrating gameplay, feel free to give “Scorn” a shot.
Daily Arts Writer Hunter Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.