Developer Ebb Software has accidentally created the most authentic Alien game that isn’t called Alien through its latest psychological horror game, Scorn. Heavily influenced by the works of the late H.R. Giger, Scorn adopts one of the most unique presentations ever seen in gaming. Some may be misled by its marketing and make no mistake, this isn’t an action game. Instead, Scorn revels in slowly building its world and lore through atmospheric tension and puzzle-solving that’s unlike anything you’ve played – for better or worse.
The plot of Scorn is intentionally cryptic and vague. You play as a husk of a person who awakens on a strange alien world. There’s something going on about a life and death cycle, but you’ll need to navigate the alien hellscape in order to survive and figure out a mystery revolving around your current situation and purpose. Even after rolling credits on Scorn, I was still scratching my head at the story which is vague to a frustrating degree. Nonetheless, it’s in the moment-to-moment gameplay that it truly comes “alive.”
Don’t expect Scorn to play out like a traditional first-person shooter. While there are some combat sections, it’s mostly a puzzle-solving game that uses the biomechanical environment to unravel lore and guide players from one eerie location to the next. Think of it as a cross between the film Prometheus and the games Myst or The Witness – only somehow more complicated.
By far, Scorn‘s biggest accomplishment is its art direction. It wears the H.R. Giger influences on its sleeve with much of the striking imagery evoking Ridley Scott’s classic Alien film and the aforementioned Prometheus. It manages to walk a fine line between inspiration and almost ripping off, to be honest, but there’s enough unique visual elements and ideas in Scorn to separate it from the Scott’s franchise.
The core gameplay loop revolves around players entering an expansive area where several puzzles need to be solved through the environment, with some of them linking into a larger overarching puzzle. There aren’t any buttons or levers around the world so most contraptions take the form of very “suggestive” orifices, many of which require you to shove your arm down. As you can tell, it’s not exactly subtle but it works when looking at it through the lense of Giger’s phenomenal art style and vision.
Unfortunately, Scorn is one of the more unconventional puzzle-horror games ever made too. It doesn’t hold your hand at all and that forces you to become immersed in the world on a more intimate level. You need to pay attention to everything the environment is trying to tell you or you might be lost for hours on a single level trying to figure out what to do or where to go next. Part of the reward is actually figuring out these things, but it also became an endless source of frustration.
It isn’t helped by the fact that much of Scorn‘s world looks the same shade of dimly-lit grey and brown. It’s very easy to get lost in long corridors trying to find something as simple as an object or device. The lack of markers or clear-cut paths does add something great to the immersion, but it comes at the cost of being lost, alone and confused for a majority of the game’s runtime.
When you do finally stumble across interactive objects in the environment, some of them will tell you that it’s too soon to use and send you off in another direction. You need to then remember that specific device to backtrack to at a later stage and even then, the levels start to blend into each other so it’s harder to navigate, especially if small things begin to change in the surroundings. As beautifully grotesque and inspired as the game is, it’s also not very fun to play after a while.
Combat is perhaps Scorn‘s worst offender. Once in a while, a slimy enemy will appear that triggers some short-lived combat. You can use the game’s biomechanical weapons to literally penetrate through most combat sections, but the motion blur and lack of a crosshair in the middle of the screen makes it a nauseating and unpleasant experience. I audibly sighed every time I was forced into a combat encounter, some of which delayed my progress significantly while I figured out how to proceed without being destroyed in one or two hits.
Scorn‘s checkpoint system is also one of the most unforgiving I’ve ever seen. The game has a tendency to autosave in the middle of lengthy puzzles that often require course correction, so the only way to fix this is to restart the entire section and pray you do things correctly next time. Other times, a checkpoint will not appear for long stretches, meaning you’re sometimes stuck in a loop of frustrating combat-heavy sections that, as mentioned before, aren’t exactly kind to the player or enjoyable. They only ramp up in the second half of the game where it feels like a true test of patience and endurance.
All the negatives aside, I can say with certainty that Scorn is a technical marvel with masterful art direction. The visuals on Xbox Series X are gorgeous and the world feels like a living, breathing massive creature melded by biomechanical parts, hanging tentacles and slithery surfaces. I stopped to gawk at the world design constantly throughout my roughly 9-hour playtime. You could probably finish the game in less time but the obtuse puzzles and backtracking pad out the length a bit.
I also have to mention that Scorn‘s negatives are entirely subjective here. Some players might appreciate the game’s tendency to not hold your hand and force you to become familiar with every inch of its dizzingly stunning environments. Quite literally becoming part of Scorn‘s world is the secret behind it’s allure and sometimes, having a visually breathtaking experience that takes its time to unravel might be what some need in a gaming industry crowded by “go go go” action games. Speaking from a personal standpoint, though, it left me bewildered more times than it actually blew me away.
Scorn presents some incredible art direction and a biomechanical Giger fever dream of a world to get lost in, but that’s exactly what you’ll be doing in it for most of your time: getting lost. Beyond its gorgeous hellscapes and inspired world-building, it’s difficult to wholeheartedly recommend Scorn unless you fully understand what you’re getting into. Conceptually, Scorn has a lot to offer – overwhelmingly so – but it also struggles to deliver on its execution.
Story - 4/10
Gameplay - 4/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 4/10
Scorn features some of the most striking art direction in recent memory and an incredibly immersive atmosphere, but it’s severely held back by frustrating puzzles and gameplay that hinders the experience almost every step of the way.
Stunning presentation and art direction
Frustrating puzzles and combat
Confusing level design