Scorn is one of those titles that has been in development for a LONG time. A long development time usually has a side effect of building more hype for a game with the prestige normally associated with AAA published titles. This is what fans have come to learn about the Ebb Software-developed atmospheric title: A game that brings all the atmosphere but hides all the fun gameplay behind a slog that almost feels like a chore.
The beginning of Scorn throws the player behind the lens of an unnamed protagonist that can only be described as ‘fleshy,’ and to warn those that dislike the word, it describes almost every piece of Scorn to a tee, so it may be used more than once. A small vague flashback scenario pits the player with zero introduction into a setting that feels like it was ripped from the mind of H. R. Giger, the original designer of the Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise. This is an amazing concept that works incredibly well in the game, which makes the setting feel like it has a heartbeat.
The atmospheric haunt that envelops the player did a great job at keeping me on edge for the introductory period, but the incredibly slow pace of exploring the setting in Scorn leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, there is a severe lack of storyline here, as nothing is explained to the player. I mean literally NOTHING. I would compare this to the tried-and-true vague storytelling method FromSoftware uses for its titles, but the Souls games provide necessary juxtaposition to give at least the smallest trail of breadcrumbs for players to discover the story. Scorn injects the player into a great atmosphere with zero context, and this works very poorly.
“The atmospheric haunt that envelops the player did a great job at keeping me on edge for the introductory period, but the incredibly slow pace of exploring the setting in Scorn leaves a lot to be desired.”
The first puzzle of the game is moving forward. There is nothing that tells the player where to go, and this is an issue in a game loaded with atmosphere. Everything in Scorn has the same fleshy look and feel as the protagonist. This is not a bad thing, but it becomes terribly cumbersome when the main gameplay mechanics are solving puzzles without context.
After moving forward a bit, I forced my naked cadaver of a protagonist’s left arm into a machine, to which they responded by being unable to rip it from the slot. This is a bit jarring, but necessary as the slot outfits the player with the tools moving forward, a bracelet-looking thing that activates the Alien technology around the ship. You NEED this to continue, and this is where the rest of the stage is set for Scorn to irrevocably disappoint players.
My entire experience aboard the heartbeat setting was spent activating things and seeing what happens without context. This is frustrating and more guess-and-check, like solving a math problem without the formula, than anything revolutionary. The first puzzle asks the user to hatch this egg-like thing, where saws dig into it with many yelps of displeasure. This reveals the egg as a misshapen abomination, with no mouth. While this is all fascinating, the pacing feels off, and waiting for things to happen just feels more trial and error compounded.
“Everything in Scorn has impeccable design, and upon retrieving my first gun, it’s just as fleshy as everything else! “
After solving the problem by forcibly making my new companion get the same arm bracelet as me, and forcing them to help open a door while leaving them attached to the device they activated for me, I’m left with more questions than answers. I went back and retried the beginning intro, and lo-and-behold there was a separate method of destroying the egg.
I could use the retrieved detached arm of my fallen comrade to open the co-op door puzzle, instead of the abomination helping. This is an interesting and cool concept, allowing for more than one method to the madness, but oddly without the abomination lagging behind me and making sure it was following, Scorn felt WAY better going the dark route.
Everything in Scorn has impeccable design, and upon retrieving my first gun, it’s just as fleshy as everything else! But, the gun play is incredibly slow and boring. Lumbering through shooting segments against abominations felt sluggish and tiring. Most of all, I fled more than I stood and fought due to a severe lack of ammo, but not in the good Resident Evil 0 way, a way that just felt like “why even give me a weapon?”
Most times while exploring the setting, I felt this nagging feeling like I’m doing something wrong. Which had a counterpoint of making me search EVERYWHERE to find more, and oftentimes I would find nothing. Each puzzle took me nearly 25 minutes to figure out what I’m supposed to do, and each time it felt like a surprise when it worked rather than an accomplishment, which left me with a feeling of disappointment.
My playthrough took me near six-ish hours to stagger through, and the ending (without spoilers) left me feeling like no conclusion was reached. The music, atmosphere and the visuals are breathtaking, and there’s an emphasis on attention to detail that cannot be understated. This is a great-looking, great-sounding title with a heartbeat, but just feels like the actual gameplay was severely overlooked.
Scorn is Ebb Software’s foray into game development after being formed in 2013, and damn is it a pretty game with a soundtrack that bleeds the title’s atmosphere into the player’s soul. The sound effects are grotesque and push the bar with visual horror that I haven’t seen before, adding a layer of visceral tension to the disgusting surroundings. But with such lacking gameplay mechanics, and no narrative to speak of, the game drags the player along like the initial egg companion in the introduction segment.
It is constant bumbling around with no direction, while the abomination you play as gets visually dug into and lacerated while the player is forced to watch. While Scorn is visually impressive, and is a great debut title from a studio, it is disappointing.