When I lose myself in Takashi Murakami’s imaginative In the Land of the Dead, look into the eyes of Barbara Kruger’s powerful portrait Your body is a battleground, or marvel at how deep one can sink into a Jackson Pollock, I regret that one much of this art can only be enjoyed in a museum. There are of course practical reasons for this; there is simply no other way to do it. But in the best case, art should enrich our everyday life, be something that can be experienced.
Just like Scorn is. That is exactly what has been achieved. Scorn is like a sculptural art exhibition – or rather, not an exhibition, but a whole world that I wandered through for nine hours. Because where you usually stop in front of a painting or walk around a statue, here you are in the middle of a sculpture. Wherever you look, you will discover filigree reliefs carved in stone or a fantastic panorama, with a huge structure peeking out of the fog.
In fact, much of the time I just stared in awe like no other game. This is certainly also due to the fact that I am particularly fascinated by this special style. Above all, however, it is thanks to the craftsmanship of the artists at Ebb Software who set a monument to video games here. By making it clear how absorbing virtual art can be.
It’s not an empty eye-catcher. It feels like HR Giger or Zdzisław Beksiński, who officially inspired Game Director Ljubomir Peklar’s studio, have bundled part of their work into this horror trip. In any case, her aesthetic fusion of man and machine is ever-present when the unfamiliar surroundings—elegant shapes supported by massive adornments—appear to be made of flesh and bone.
And Scorn practically completes this motif when fleshy growth soon blocks the mechanism of the mysterious machines. The developers did not reveal more in advance. You really shouldn’t know more than that.
The game itself doesn’t lose a word of explanation either. It is not a silent, but a speechless adventure that never fully reveals itself until the end. Of course, you will learn in part why you initially wake up in this world and what mysteries it holds. But neither is the past described in words, nor are goals proclaimed. You see a locked door and get a key on your left arm, built right into your skin. It is not difficult to follow this request.
You have to find out when you have to move which machines where in order to open more doors. Four, maybe five times you also solve shifting or similar puzzles and creatures crawl through the corridors that you defeat with one of two repeating weapons or a kind of steam hammer. However, many can also be avoided, as they will eventually crawl into the fleshy growth from which they were previously separated.
Although you have to shoot accurately in some situations, Scorn is not an action game. And it’s not a puzzle adventure either. It’s a little bit of all of that – but mostly one of those storytelling games that define themselves through exploring the sets. Except that this exploration is more intense than elsewhere. No texts, nothing to collect, read or complete: This clarity lets the events speak for themselves and puts the walk-in work of art even more in the foreground.
A work of art in which the virtual self also seems very tangible, because you only have to look down to see how much ammunition you are carrying. There are no graphics, no inventory rolled out over the game. Your hands are also always in view when flipping switches, getting on your knees, or otherwise interacting, and the relatively leisurely pace adds weight to every action. Even when you’re jogging, you’re not sprinting around at breakneck speed. Even the crude shooting with the slow-firing guns has an inherent inertia that underscores that believable presence. One feels part of the ghastly spectacle rather than probing it like an outside observer.
All this is accompanied by a soundtrack, whose ominous roar or howl accompanies the calm progress, but never causes acute panic. Scorn isn’t one of those horror trips that pull at the hairs on the back of your neck. It’s exciting because you know about the creatures that are constantly groaning or gurgling nearby. But it thrives on the images it creates, both literally and mentally—not to be frightened by fear. And after all, not only the smashing of some opponents with the “steam hammer” constantly indicates that the omnipresent horror is not only experienced as a victim.
It’s a pity that you don’t activate levers and other devices by moving them with a mouse or controller, but by simply pressing a button. Similar to Alien: Isolation, the haptic imitation of such actions could have deepened the immersion in the immersive world.
And if I really blame Scorn for one thing, it’s operating the machines as well. Because as unerringly and skillfully as the alter ego knows how to use them all, it hardly makes any sense, especially in the final minutes. Since the story is not completely rolled out and is therefore open to interpretation, I don’t want to rule out the possibility that it can be explained. From my understanding, however, it is more a concession to playability than it would be plausible in terms of content.
Is that the price to visit this work of art? It would be worth the compromise.
Scorn – Conclusion
One could describe Scorn as a playfully manageable experience – but that would do him just as little justice as it would with What Remains of Edith Finch. Because in its reduced clarity it is overwhelmingly beautiful! I don’t know when I last just looked around for so long. Rarely have I enjoyed the artistic design of virtual locations so much. And I’ve never perceived a game like a virtual work of art that would find a place in every well-known exhibition. A work of art that not only looks outstanding, but also narratively brings form and function together. Which is sufficiently exciting with successful puzzles and challenging fights. And its intense interactive presence only draws me even more into its mighty backdrops. A work of art that is not only handsome, but can be experienced with skin and hair.
Scorn – pros and cons
- Impressively beautiful backdrops
- Strong connection between environment and history
- Focused narration exclusively about locations and events
- Virtually no collectibles, text, or HUD overlays
- Logical, not too difficult puzzles set cool machines in motion
- Dense background noise and atmospheric soundtrack
- Small logic weaknesses in the actions of the alter ego
Developer: Ebb Software – Publishers: Kepler Interactive – Platforms: PC, Xbox Series – release: 10/14/2022 – Genre: horror – Price (RRP): approx. 36€ as well as in the Game Pass