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Scorn review: a staggeringly impressive horror world with messy combat

It's pregnant with meaning

Scorn is a deliberately grim game with a lot of body horror. Best avoid it and this review if you have issues with body horror themes.

I was talking to a friend about Scorn and they asked, "Is there a story?". And yeah, Scorn has a story. At some point there'll be a two hour YouTube video outlining how it has a clear and nuanced plot, or that it's a metaphor for periods and erections, or both. In the immediate, it's about slithering out of a pod, staggering through the desert, and finding yourself in a strange, huge rotting machine made of rock and flesh that's already decades into abandonment and decay, and where most things look a bit penisy or womby. It's about the lizardy parasite latched to your back gradually transforming your body. It's about grim squishy noises and survival.

Scorn doesn't have dialogue, or a map. It doesn't really have a HUD, it doesn't have quest markers, and your character will not, upon seeing a strange new device, say something like "Hmm... seems like a key. Maybe if I find the two missing ones, it'll open up a way forward!" out loud. It won't even pull focus to the corridor you should check next. You just have to look around, experiment, and figure it out. I think I like it. I don't know if I can recommend it.

Everything I have described above, I heartily endorse. The prologue is probably the hardest bit of Scorn, because at that point you're not in tune with the rhythm of the world. Once you are, it's almost a walk in the (moist) park. Whenever you enter a new section of the monstrous machine and/or citadel you find a new weirdo bio-mechanical contraption with missing parts, and must head out to find the Macguffins to make it work - often with a spinny puzzle machine involved at some point. Your MacGuffins might be three rings to open a polyp that spaffs out a dying man, three switches that rip holes in the pendulous teats of a giant worm cow with a head like one of the Pacman ghosts, or the bodies of some dead Krang-from-TMNT-style mutants to put in a kind of blender.

A lot of horror games that use gore and body horror do it without much intention beyond the idea that gore and body horror are gross, but Scorn's world feels very intentional. Someone, somewhere at Ebb Software knows exactly what every machine in that world is for, and why. Hell if I know, but they sure do.

A humanoid trapped in an egg -shaped rock over its back, being pushed on a pram-like chair on rails in Scorn

The first area is in the lower parts of the city-machine-thing, and is the more fleshy bit you've seen in the trailers. It's fleshy in part becuase the H.R. Giger of it all has been overrun by a parasitical kind of hive-mind creature. The main soldiers of the brood look like perambulatory chicken sausages, and they form heaps and chains to become part strangling vine, part architecture. Later you ascend to a cleaner - though still derilict - area full of phallic stone architecture and statues of people 69ing. It's easy enough to see the chaotic breeding, building and brooding of the parasites mirrored in the more clinical systems and processes above. It's a fascinating place that you want to understand, but also not.

Scorn pushes all its chips to the centre of the body horror table throughout. Even in the areas where the walls aren't all drippy, the machines are made of sinew and tendons. It's not a jump scare horror game. It's slow burn; it wants you to be perpetually uncomfortable. Maybe when you're falling asleep an image from the game will flash, unbidden, into your mind: a strange web of what looks like brains, or a glimpse of hands digging into your abdomen. Yet I, like Ed, found it strangely beautiful more than terrifying. And there's a feeling of mastery, once you're more at home.

A wide shot of an area in scorn, showing a huge statue of a woman crouching, her legs spread open.
An area in Scorn that has been completely overrun by parasite creatures, making the room look almost like the bottom of the ocean

There's a tremendous sense of accomplishment in getting stuck on one of the machine puzzles and figuring it out. They're tough, but they just need you to slow down and understand what spins where for which button. Realising where to go next just by looking through a window and orienting yourself is fabulous. There are some frustrating things about Scorn, but I didn't find the puzzles or navigation to be the problem. The problem is the combat.

An enemy in Scorn, a large creature on four spindly legs with no visible face but a large, hanging protuberance at the front where a head would be
Beat the meat
The anger-sausages are backed up by similarly enraged roast chickens and fleshy battering rams, as well as some wobbly stalactites. All, except the battering rams (pictured) spit acidic flesh lumps at you. It's difficult to judge distance and avoid their attacks in first person. The easiest and best tactic is running past.

You're not meant to seek out fights. You have very little health and will go down as hard and easily as the statuary in this game. You do get weapons (your guns are different attachments you swap out on a fleshy handle) but ammo is scarce, only refillable at special dispensors which will deposit a finite amount into your ammo squid. This is a li'l pink pod with waving tentacles that you carry around like a fanny pack, and is also your health kit, equipped with rechargeable healing blisters. Honestly, the squid was one of my favourite parts.

But it is in service to the annoyance that is the combat. Waiting and watching will usually give you a gap in the patrol pattern of an anger-sausage, so you can avoid them. There are some sections, though, where a few enemies are plonked down as a setpiece, and if you don't happen to have enough health at the time, or you miss a key shot with your shotgun thing, then you'll probably just have to reload until freak chance means one of the battering ram lads leaves a gap for you to sprint through. That doesn't feel like an achievement. It feels like a relief.

What Scorn really needs, other than a non-combat Discovery Tour mode, is a dodge, because strafing ins't fast enough most of the time. There's a boss fight later in the game where you spend 90% of it strafing in circles, even though a key part is baiting the enemy into a charge. Why would you put multiple enemies that charge attack into your game, and not let me dodge them! I'm clearly supposed to avoid most fights anyway! Help me do the avoid bit!

A puzzle in Scorn, six lights arranged in a wonky diamond, that must be spun until they all light up at once.

It's why, like Natalie Imbruglia, I'm torn. I wanted to play Scorn. Yet, every time I booted it up, I would mutter a string of profanities that was some combination of the words "alien", "prick", and "fuck", a neat summary of the major themes of the text as well as an expression of my animus. I knew I would at, some point, become very upset in a way the game didn't intend. The lowest low was an autosave glitch that forced me to start an entire section from scratch, losing me 40 minutes of progress - and Scorn isn't a game you can cheese through if that happens. The day one patch should, hopefully, spare you a similar fate.

The world of Scorn is singular, and carefully constructed, and intelligent. The way you're left to explore - and the way you can get through it without any help whatsoever - is a 10/10 bit of game design. But the most upsetting parts are upsetting by accident rather than intention. I think as many people should play it as possible, but I can't say you'll enjoy it. I'm really glad it's coming to Game Pass.

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About the Author
Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

RPS's dep ed. Small person powered by tea and enthusiasm for video game romances. Send me interesting etymological facts and cool horror games.

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