Scorn feels as though it’s on a dirt-covered verge between “weirdly disturbing” and “deliberately awkward.” In the nearly hour I play the game—its entirely tutorial-less opening section—I’m introduced to a truly obnoxious biotechnology setting, showing how its many opaque puzzles are pieced together to create wordless storytelling. Makes a neat series, and gently pushes it beyond its sometimes giggling-indebted fleshscape and into less impressive straight body horror.
The root of scorn lies in its riddle. It can play from an FPS perspective, and sometimes offers you what looks like weapons, but it’s a cerebral game at its core. With its mysterious main character pulling himself out of his seemingly survivable landscape, Scorn gives no indication on screen what to do, or how anything works, taking you through the gently waving corridors of its world. leaves you to trample on, sometimes sticking out your hands horrifyingly contraption just to see what happens.
To Scorn’s credit, this self-guided approach works well. Quickly, you’re given tools (well, violently implanted) that allow you to manipulate biotech machinery, allowing you to try and work out what the hell any of it is. The player is then drawn to a puzzle – unlock this large door – which you gradually realize is, in fact, made up of many smaller puzzles that must be chained together.
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These are oddly familiar (a puzzle about retrieving a giant, disgusting egg from a wall is actually a simple sliding puzzle in disguise) really bizarre (one section used me like a slaughterhouse bolt gun in an attempt to destroy floating, steam-spewing machines… to feed a giant column?) There’s a pretty cool way to tie into the world and vice versa – and the mix of hands-off design and deeply unfamiliar places make it a gratifying challenge to solve.
Scorn’s story is intentionally left blank as to its puzzle solution – I think interpreting this world as gameplay would require as much mental effort – but it seems clear we’re in a terrible place. Which has gone to seed even more badly. For the most part, it’s charmingly unique as far as gaming goes, a worthy ode to the likes of Cronenberg, Giger, maybe even Junji Ito.
On one occasion, though, I thought it was closer to something like agony; Adopting a more gleeful, voyeur unpleasantness. Without going into much detail about the solution, the basic puzzle in this opening area is almost centered around using a fetus-like person as your means of escape. Your mileage may vary, but watching them truncate—over and over again, screaming, and without words begging you to stop—feeled less like intrigue and more like provocation. It turned down, but not in the way I’d expect it to feel like an otherwise cool, creepy horror exercise.
I’ll be very interested to see how much of this becomes part of a more comprehensive game, not least because it completely changes the mood set up by its other puzzles. At its best, Scorn feels like a deeply strange, deeply thoughtful approach to an already more open puzzle, perhaps most easily compared to The Witness. Personally, that’s what I’d expect to see more of – but if you’re looking for a dose of real unpleasantness, it looks like you’ve got that covered there as well. The balance between those two sides will be the key to its success.
Joe Scrabbles is the Executive Editor of News for IGN. follow him Twitter, Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a potential story? please send an email firstname.lastname@example.org,