Want a way to lose appetite fast? Try playing Scorn, a visceral horror puzzle game played in a first person perspective and features full on body horror including mutilation, dismemberment, dissection and parasitism.
Inspired by the art of H R Giger, whose creations were behind the Alien movies, Scorn is more visual art than game, and features rich symbolism about birth, death and pain.
Needless to say, this is not at all recommended for those who are squeamish about gore and blood, and have adverse reactions to seeing bodily harm.
Blood, guts and gore galore
You play a nameless, skinless and mouthless emaciated character who wakes up in what might be a large alien ship or building in a desolate alien world.
While you stumble around trying to find a way to progress, the game offers very little help and clues on what to do.
As you explore and venture further, you find objects that you can interact with that lets you solve puzzles and remove the obstacles that block your progress.
The world of Scorn isn’t very large and progress is pretty linear – there is a fixed sequence for opening up new areas and puzzles to be solved in this biopunk world.
There are even opportunities to exit the structure briefly to explore the open world outside or even take some form of locomotive contraption, but then you will be led to the next structure with even more puzzles to solve, so there really isn’t exploration in this forlorn world.
Scorn’s level design is unique and interesting, and I have stood in awe, or sometimes in disgust, to admire the environment.
There are plenty of disturbing images to behold, such as anatomical architectural structures, an abundance of twisted bodies and body parts strewn around and piled up, and hostile faceless fleshy creatures emerging from holes to attack you.
Scorn’s art features recurring themes of birth, such as umbilical cords, babies and pregnant bodies, as well as death, with piles of corpses, dismembered limbs and copious amounts of blood.
There are also rampant sexual symbolism with phallic looking structures, statues in NSFW (Not Safe for Work) poses and suspicious orifices in mounds of flesh.
Scorn’s disturbing imagery, its palpable sense of desperation and helplessness, and horrifying depictions of pain is likely to bring on nightmares.
Yet, despite making me uncomfortable and squeamish, I do enjoy Scorn’s art style that features a fusion of bio-organic and mechanical elements in the design.
Scorn has plenty of mind-blowing and creative visuals that embrace this form of art in its environment and level designs, inventory items, puzzles and contraptions.
Even the game’s conclusion, which is rich in symbolism, is rather perplexing and highly disturbing. It left me gasping for air.
Give me a hand (literally)
Being a puzzle game, Scorn offers up a wide but inconsistent variety of puzzles to solve. Some are creative and clever, some are rather obtuse that requires trial and error to complete, while others are absolutely annoying and repetitive.
Getting through the puzzles involves certain sadistic and unsettling actions, including the crushing of some alien baby lifeforms, removing and using body parts (not just your own), and even deliberately hurting parts of your character’s already tortured body.
Despite my personal misgivings and reluctance to perform those actions, there isn’t really a choice if I want to progress, so I whimper, cringe and apologise but do it anyway.
There are also some slightly more normal puzzles in which you have to find keys to unlock certain mechanisms, as well as manipulate machines and cruel contraptions by inserting your hands and fingers into holes to pull levels and press buttons.
Although I am filled with trepidation and fear for the fingers, this lets you operate certain mechanical contraptions like claw machines, cable cars, trains and elevators.
Shock and eww
But what really spoils the game for me is the cumbersome and clunky combat. There are frequent attacks by a variety of fleshy misshapen creatures crawling out of holes that can spit acid at you, muscular bovine-like monsters that charge at you, and even “boss” battles which are repetitive and extremely unsatisfying to get through.
Given that Scorn is designed to make the player feel an overwhelming sense of despair and helplessness in a hostile world, I get that one should be made to feel vulnerable in combat. But it does get extremely tiresome to keep dying because you cannot crouch, dodge or effectively use the weapons.
Scorn’s meager arsenal includes four different weapon types — a close-ranged sluggish melee weapon that can punch your foes, as well as ranged weapons that resemble a shotgun, a rocket launcher and a grenade launcher.
All of these can be switched by your character by pulling out the fleshy end of a nozzle and reattaching it to another weapon part. Unfortunately, the weapons have very limited ammo and are extremely slow in reloading, hence be prepared to die frequently.
There are stations that replenish ammo and health, but these are extremely few and far between. Loading up on health is accomplished by inserting a spherical object like a sea urchin riddled with holes (warning: trypophobia trigger) into a fleshy station, watching it get viciously stabbed, then being returned to you with additional health shots. Eww.
The infrequent checkpoints that save the game and the lack of a manual save option are another deal breaker for me. As health replenishments are so hard to come by, on one occasion, I wanted to load an earlier saved game at one point as my health was down to a sliver and I was getting killed by a single hit.
However, the checkpoint was way back before I completed the puzzles of the level I was on, which meant I had to replay the same puzzles and fight the same enemies all over again.
Scorn is relatively short, with the entire game covering five Acts, and can be completed in around nine hours, sooner if there is less dying and restarting at a checkpoint way earlier.
The later chapters are longer and more difficult, and the game’s bleakness and forlornness make it too hard to bear at times.
Horror fills my eyes and ears
With the sickening green palette commonly associated with horror movies and masterful visuals designed in stunning detail, Scorn looks better a lot than it plays.
The graphics are truly a work of art, and I find myself frequently awestruck and gawking at the environments. Apart from the claustrophobic tunnels and chambers, the game also offers a good variety of scenery including cavernous gothic halls, open alien landscapes and elaborate multi-level interiors.
Scorn’s nightmarish scenes and explicit depiction of physical horror will leave an indelible impression. Disgusting and horrifying acts, such as pulling an umbilical cord from your character’s body or dismembering body parts will bring on a case of the shudders.
Scorn’s soundscape is very intense and mostly very silent, punctuated by the occasional tortured moans and groans from twisted creatures, sinister pounding sounds reverberating in the structure as well as the squishy wet sounds of gross fluids and blood in motion around you.
The game is definitely a unique and unforgettable experience, albeit rather unpleasant at times. If you enjoy Giger’s art, are not put off by gore and horror, and possess a fondness for being disgusted, Scorn offers an experience like no other. But personally, I will not be rushing into another playthrough anytime soon.
Scorn is definitely style over substance with amazing visual artwork but with gameplay that leaves a lot to be desired. Its stunning visuals, inconsistent puzzles and scrappy combat is likely to incite love, hate and scorn.
I just wish that combat isn’t quite so awful and frustrating, and infrequent health replenishments make dying all too unnecessarily frequent.
The game is truly refreshing and memorable, but it is not for everyone, especially those averse to blood, gore and explicit body horror. It’s certainly not for kids.
Scorn is mercifully short and can be completed in around nine hours — dragging it out anymore will be unbearable. Despite its limited replay value, Scorn is a refreshingly disgusting short romp in a nightmarish world.
Scorn is available for the PC on Steam and Epic Games at S$35.99, as well as the Xbox at S$57.75. It is free to play with a subscription to Xbox Game Pass, so if you are already a subscriber, it’s definitely worth giving it a go.
- Amazing visuals and level designs inspired by H.R. Giger’s art
- Some creative (and sometimes sadistic) puzzles to solve
- Spoils appetite and discourages snacking
- Awfully frustrating combat
- Overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness
- Spoils appetite and induces gagging