Relatively early on in Scorn’s runtime, your character’s body is invaded by a four-legged alien creature. This creature gives you the ability to use the game’s gun-like weapons, but it comes at a price. Every so often, the creature will dig its claws even deeper into your stomach, causing you to take damage and waste some of the few precious health refills Scorn gives you. In several ways, this idea of cooperating things fighting against each other becomes a theme of Scorn’s design. For every vomit-inducing scene of body horror, you’ll also lose your lunch at the game’s technical and design issues. Like the creature and the protagonist, it just feels as if Scorn is fighting against itself at every step along the way.
Disgusting on the outside, disappointing on the inside
At its core, Scorn is a survival horror game with a heavy dash of puzzle-solving. That likely calls to mind games like Resident Evil, but Scorn is a different beast. Where other games deal in jump scares and dread, Scorn just wants to make you toss up your lunch with gruesome displays of the many ways you can be disemboweled. Whether you’re a fan of gore or not, this is awesome because it feels so different from almost everything else in the genre. Between the focus on body horror over scares and the H.R. Giger-inspired aesthetics, Scorn easily rises above the ocean of horror games as something different.
Unfortunately, in trying to be different, Scorn also has quite a few problems. I’m not just talking about technical issues, which did crop up from time to time during my playthrough. These weren’t game-breaking and most of them are supposedly being fixed in a day-one patch. Instead, it’s the actual game design that’s lacking.
For instance, the game doesn’t have a way to manually save. That’s not a problem if your game has a good checkpoint system. Scorn does not have one of those. Several times during my five or so hours with Scorn I would either get murdered by one of the game’s enemies or hit a random bug that stopped progress. Instead of being able to jump back a few minutes, I would often lose 30 minutes or more of progress. As you can imagine, that gets incredibly frustrating when playing a game so focused on puzzles. It kills any momentum Scorn was able to build to that point.
It’s also not like Scorn’s puzzles are simple. Personally, I was able to get through most of them relatively quickly, but I’ve heard quite a few other players struggled with a few of the brain teasers. That might come off like a humble brag, but what I’m really getting at is that you might find yourself breathing a sigh of relief after finishing a tough puzzle only to be forced to do it again because you took a badly timed death. The checkpoint system is punishingly unhelpful at times, which doesn’t add to the horror in a meaningful way unless you’re just a glutton for punishment.
Bland mechanics in a gripping world
Maybe even worse than that is that none of the mechanics are that noteworthy. As I mentioned above, Scorn looks and sounds phenomenal, but both the combat and the puzzles are probably best described as present. Sure, they’re there. You can do both of them and they mostly work, but it’s all just puzzle types you’ve completed and guns you’ve shot in other games. Most likely, those games handled them better too.
That’s profoundly disappointing because, again, Scorn looks like something totally alien. If the puzzles or guns played into that and felt unique, that would add to the game’s world in a meaningful way. Instead, it feels almost by the numbers, which really stands out when you contrast it with the world you’re exploring.
On top of that, the combat is often hamstrung by the enemies having weird pathing. Half the time, if you just back up and ignore the enemies, they’ll disappear into the environment and you don’t have to deal with them. I’m not sure if this is what the developers were going for, but if the best way to play a game is just to ignore it, that doesn’t seem like good game design. Even the enemies you do have to fight can often be easily manipulated to just run into a doorway where they can’t attack you. Maybe this is why the game felt so unscary outside of the body horror. Without any real threat, I could just sleepwalk from one puzzle to the other.
If it sounds like I’m being overly harsh, then I need you to imagine me as your high school basketball coach. I really think Scorn has the potential and the flash to be a star, but it needs to focus on the fundamentals to get that baseline that every great game needs. I’m not hard on it because it’s bad, but because I can see how good it should be. Everything is here for a video game that really digs deep into body horror while immersing yourself in an alien world. Unfortunately, so much of that is held up by questionable design choices and quirky bugs. If you can put up with that, you’re in for a treat of other-worldly visuals. If you can’t, this might be a game you can comfortably skip.
6 / 10
|+||Exquisite body horror that will make you glad you’re not eating|
|+||An alien world full of intrigue|
|–||Uninventive puzzles and combat|
|–||Punishing checkpoint system leads to frustration|
|–||Several technical issues bring down the experience|