Scorn Review (Xbox Series X)
Release date: October 14, 2022
Publisher: Kepler Interactive
Developer: Ebb Software
Platforms: Windows, Xbox Series X/S
*NO SPOILERS BELOW*
After being announced back in 2014 and gamers finally being able to peep early gameplay and story trailers just this past summer, Scorn is finally out -- and just in time for Halloween!
The first-person survival puzzler takes place in a nightmarish alien environment where the player awakens and must traverse through levels of puzzles and combat in order to survive. The game quickly introduces you to its hellish environment (inspired by Alien art director H.R. Giger and dystopian Polish sculptor Zdzisław Beksiński) and is meant to intentionally make you feel like you're completely alone in a foreign world. With the haunting blend biomechanical machinery, flesh-infused terrains, and eerie soundscapes, Scorn is a masterpiece in setting and themes alone.
Most of the footage and information regarding Scorn up to this point hadn't really revealed much in terms of story and upon playing, you'll find this game is meant to be purely an immersion of the senses. As you progress through each grotesque act, you complete puzzles and unlock areas in an effort to combat whatever parasitic entity is tearing your body apart from the inside out. In an effort to avoid spiling too much, I will note that the story that is revealed has a heavy "creation of life" theme (at least that's what I interpreted after completing).
As previously mentioned, Scorn's game progression is fueled solely through puzzles. Through winding paths and Dead Space-like foes, the game keeps you on your toes by adequately spacing out the puzzles so that you don't feel like you're wondering too much. There are no prompts or clues, so the developers really designed this game for a focus on exploration. Occasional sounds cues and monster appearances do help guide you in the right direction... most of the time. There are handful of weapons you collect as you progress as well, which can be used both for combat and for unlocking puzzles. These weapons match the setting in that they are just as stomach-churning as the walls.
The biggest issue I find with this game, on the Series X at least, are the controls. While easy to learn, the controls sometimes feel unbalanced and wonky as what you press and what happens on the screen, don't always match up. This was most evident with the interactive sections where you had to move large crane-like arms to pick up objects. On the smaller puzzles, the controls were much more fluent.
Another glaring issue is the game's saving system, or lack thereof. There is no option to manually save. There is no indicator on screen to tell you when the game is autosaving either. So, if like me, you accidentally die after struggling through a group of enemies, you may be tossed back to a point that you had completed 10-20 minutes earlier. Even reverting to the main menu, the game resumes where the unannounced autosave had occurred, which can happen after completing a big puzzle or randomly in a corridor.
Current reviews for the game are a mixed bag, with an equal blend of high and low scores. I can understand these scores if you go into Scorn believing it is just a horror survival game. It feels like the promotional materials pushed it more as this and instead of what it actually is: a horror puzzler. While the survival elements are there, especially within the combat sequences, they are outshined completely by the puzzles that drive the narrative forward.
Scorn was one of my most anticipated games of 2022. I'm a big fan of the Alien franchise and the environments is what sold me on this game before release. Upon playing it, I believe it lived up to the hype. Despite the unbalanced controls, I genuinely felt uneasy traversing through this game and was amazed at the environmental detail. I have to admit I felt so overwhelmed by the ending, I was close to tears, simply because I was so immersed in the game. The puzzles ranged in difficulty and therefore kept the gameplay from becoming too repetitive and/or frustrating. The lack of gameplay hints was actually really refreshing for me. It was a throwback to a lost age of gaming where you had to use your intuition as opposed to on-screen notices. Though the campaign itself is relatively short, depending on how long the puzzles take you, completion time can range anywhere from 3-10 hours. I personally pushed closer to the 10-hour mark as some of the puzzles and enemies kept me a little too occupied.
All in all, if you're up for a puzzle-based horror game that doesn't hold your hand and is a masterpiece in visual/audio design, I recommend giving Scorn a fair try.
Scorn is currently a timed release for Windows and Xbox Series X/S, available on Game Pass or to purchase for $39.99 USD.
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