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Scorn

Scorn

Repulsive, confusing, and nauseatingly brown, Scorn is nonetheless a well-realised and atmospheric horror adventure.

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Every now and then, a game comes along that has been in development for such a long time that you start to lose faith in whether it will ever actually release. Five years ago, I remember Scorn sponsoring a podcast that I listened to back then. The game was then described as a stylistic project with a dreary and gross atmosphere. Now, having finally played Scorn, I can say that the description was quite faithful. Scorn is a rather unique experience, and it's easy to see why it has taken the developer, Ebb Software, such a long time to finish the game.

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Scorn is very minimalistic in the way it tells it's story, and having played through the game, I'm still not quite sure what I experienced. You are a human-like creature that opens its eyes, and then you have to find out what is going on without any kind of narrative, other than what the world, and the puzzles you have to solve, provides. On the one hand, it works pretty well because it's your own interpretation that creates the story, but on the other hand, it all feels a bit pointless, since your avatar in the game has no personality that makes you want to find out just what the heck is going on.

I therefore had to force myself through the first few hours as the game made no attempt to help me. In essence, the puzzles are the story, and without them, you just run around in grey and brown rooms, that all look pretty similar to each other. Right at the beginning, I also struggled with finding the right trigger to get the ball rolling as all other puzzles in this first area depended on solving a specific initial puzzle. Luckily, I found it in the end, and once it was solved the other puzzles started to make sense as well.

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What I was missing was an egg-like thing (objects are often grotesque or disfigured in Scorn) containing a crib with a crippled and moaning creature. After using it for several puzzles, you can either kill or release the creature. You then had to go through several puzzles, depending on whether you freed or killed it. No matter which option you choose, you end up using this creature's arm to open the first large door, which was previously locked.

This is also an example of the storytelling in the game, as you immediately start to wonder what the strange creature is and why it is an egg? As I said, even after completing the game I'm not quite sure. This is also why I think Scorn is very polarising because there is no definitive answer, other than one's own interpretation of the many strange events.

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It might appeal to some, but personally I had a hard time exploring the grotesque world without a story to drive me along, as the world is very, very depressing and not particularly fun to inhabit. I get what Ebb Software is trying to do, but in practical terms I hated every minute, and I had to take a lot of breaks as it actually affected my mood if I was in the world for too long. It's a stylistic choice, and I respect that, but the vibe just made the whole experience quite depressing to me. But if this kind of extreme bleakness appeals to you, it's certainly effective. What kept me going was the puzzles that are quite inventive, and actually start to make sense once you get used to the weird kind of logic governing the world of Scorn. The difficulty gradually increases but it never gets too tough.

Scorn is visually a lovely mush of dark brown and grey, and the foreboding music enhances the dreary atmosphere. While certainly quite distinctive, there are several puzzles where you have to find various rooms, where a switch has to be pressed or a puzzle has to be solved, which of course isn't unusual for the genre. The problem was that I spent more time navigating the sometimes rather convoluted grey-brown mazes than actually solving the puzzles. Ebb Software has tried solving this by highlighting interactive areas with red, but when you can't find the rooms in the first place, it really starts testing your patience. It doesn't get any better later in the game, where you'll also have to deal with enemies that respawn a while after you have defeated them. With all the running back and forth, this quickly became a real nuisance.

Early in the game, your only weapon is a spear that can be used to stab enemies, but later you can upgrade your powers, so it's possible to shoot grenades, among other things. Make no mistake though, this is not a shooter by any means. Yes, you have to shoot the nasty creatures that want to hurt you, but the weapons are mostly used for solving puzzles. There is, for example, a boss fight where the grenade launcher must be used strategically in order to defeat the boss. After the boss, the grenade launcher must also be used in several places to solve the regular puzzles, which is quite an inventive feature. It also adds to the world building as everything in Scorns feels interlinked - sometimes in a very nasty and corporeal sense.

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As mentioned, Scorn is not a very colourful or cheery game. The world is brown, industrial, and ugly, and the atmosphere is oppressive and depressing. In addition, everything is extremely dark, and there is a sickly grey fog hanging over most of the world. You quickly get the uneasy sense of being trapped in the belly of a beast as everything is organic, and there are pulsating walls covered in slime and worse. At the start of the game, you get a gizmo on your arm that allows you to interact with the puzzles, and in order to open doors and the likes, you have to stick your fingers or hands into holes that look like various bodily openings. It's very gross but goes well with the game's overall atmosphere. As already mentioned, it's not for everyone, but it's impressively well realised in all its repulsiveness.

Scorn is a strange game. While being visually stylised, it demands a lot from the player, and you won't be getting any help from the developers. The only way forward is letting yourself get absorbed by the game's nasty, but also somewhat hypnotic, atmosphere which will help with grasping the logic of the puzzles. This is certainly not a game you sit down to relax with as it requires quite a lot of dedication. I enjoyed certain parts of the game a lot, and didn't care for other parts at all, but you can't take away from Ebb Software that they had a clear vision for the game, and they chose to stick with it all the way through.

07 Gamereactor UK
7 / 10
+
Good puzzles. The world is very well realised. The audio creates a suitable oppressive atmosphere.
-
Minimal story. Perhaps a bit to depressing. Very monotonous visual style.
overall score
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Scorn

REVIEW. Written by Claus Larsen

Repulsive, confusing, and nauseatingly brown, Scorn is nonetheless a well-realised and atmospheric horror adventure.



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