Scorn is designed to be disgusting. The walls of its labyrinthine halls are constructed with twisting contortions of flesh, and its mechanically complex contraptions are drenched in the blood of discarded carcasses that lay decaying without care. The inspirations of Scorn’s aesthetic are familiar but well-implemented, creating an atmosphere of languish and disgust that is maintained throughout. However, disappointingly, Scorn’s infuriatingly unbalanced combat, uneven puzzle design, and severely restricted checkpointing make its setting the least off-putting part about it.
Scorn’s most immediate impression comes from its aesthetic. This is textbook H.R. Giger, with the artist’s flair for biomechanical structures influencing every biome you visit in Scorn. If you’ve watched Prometheus recently, you’ll be quite familiar with the types of interweaving, fleshy layouts that Scorn has in store, with some variety in each new area preventing the presentation from feeling stale. The gratuitous violence and frequent body horror is less impactful, however. There is some initial shock value in seeing your arm mangled as a new key item is seared into it or watching as a parasite latches onto your body to slowly rip out your intestines, but many of these actions are repeated frequently enough that their impact diminishes over Scorn’s seven-hour runtime. Scorn’s violence isn’t memorable; instead it’s a disappointing departure from the well-crafted horror of its inspirations, wasting the potential of its alluring aesthetic.
Exploration and puzzles are at the core of Scorn’s gameplay loop. You’ll explore a handful of different constrained biomes during each of the game’s five acts, all of which are large, multi-step puzzles made up of small ones that must be solved in a specific order. Most solutions come about through simple exploration; each space has multiple areas for you to poke around in but usually only one correct path to follow, meaning you’ll regularly come across multiple dead ends before arriving at the correct route to take. Interactive consoles often let you manipulate the space, too, moving around large objects to complete other routes that let you progress further into the biome you’re currently in. Each of these spaces is like one big Rube Goldberg machine that you’re slowly activating one piece at a time, and it’s satisfying to see levels fold in on themselves and click into place once you’ve got everything down. This is crucial given Scorn’s purposeful lack of storytelling, with only two short cutscenes at its start and end tasking you with making any sense of everything in-between.
Much of this exploration is broken up with smaller, minigame-like puzzles that are far less engaging, however. There are a handful of different kinds, although many of them are repeated in quick succession, which dilutes the already lackluster impact they have. It’s not that any of them is frustrating or annoying to interact with, it’s more that they’re just completely unsurprising. They’re barely twists on existing puzzles you’ve probably played numerous times before (like one that mimics the structure of the popular board game Rush Hour, where you’re moving objects to create a path to an exit), which is painfully obvious despite the grotesque aesthetic they’re hidden underneath. It’s disappointing that such a core component of Scorn’s gameplay experience falters so consistently, and it’s especially glaring given how gratifying the larger puzzles are.
Although puzzle-based exploration is the core focus, Scorn does have its fair share of combat, with a handful of weapons and enemies to slay them with becoming prominent about halfway through the story. At first these encounters are light; single enemies are thrown at you, which seem manageable with the limited firepower you have. The first weapon you find has very limited range and requires a lengthy cooldown after just two shots, while also not doing much damage, making each encounter one that demands caution. This is more frustrating than challenging, though. Your movement speed, even when sprinting, is relatively slow, and the lack of a dodge makes avoiding damage a chore. That’s primarily because most enemies exclusively use long-range and relatively fast attacks, allowing them to hit you well before you get in close and they continue doing so as you scramble to get the required four or five shots in. It feels woefully unbalanced even in the early stages, forcing many deaths before you can progress.
This alone isn’t entirely uncommon for horror games; it’s normal for many in this genre to encourage players to circumvent enemies rather than engage them. It’s clear that Scorn expects this too, but its combat encounters leave little room to do so. Although some enemies are placed in spaces that allow you to cleverly find alternative routes around them, many of them appear in narrow hallways that don’t allow you to get on either side of them easily. You’ll routinely take damage when simply trying to sprint past most of the game’s foes, which you’ll have to do frequently given the lack of both ammunition for later-game weapons and life-giving health stations. This stretches beyond just challenging and falls squarely into infuriating territory, as many deaths are a result of an increasingly brutal gauntlet of enemies that you are both ill-equipped to face and nearly incapable of avoiding. Worse still is the fact that at least one of Scorn’s four weapons can be entirely missed, making long stretches of the game nigh impossible to progress through with encounters feeling designed for tools that you don’t have (and cannot go back to retrieve).
The increasing number of combat encounters highlights how brutal Scorn’s checkpoint system is, too. There were instances where a death threw me back multiple steps in an act’s overall puzzle, forcing me to redo mundane (and safe) tasks and obtain key items again before tackling the same enemy. There’s only a single checkpoint stored at a time, too, with no option to manually save. This doesn’t seem like a problem initially, but it becomes infuriating when used in conjunction with a caching of your total health at the same time. There were multiple instances where Scorn saved my progress while being just a single hit away from death, with multiple enemies around the corner lying in wait. The only other option aside from depending on some luck was to reload the entire act, often meaning a loss of hours of progress. This was forced upon me when my character clipped through a wall and the game saved, throwing me back into that unrecoverable state.
The restrictive saves and unbalanced combat combine to make much of Scorn’s adventure a frustrating slog, betraying the initial promising opening hours that emphasize puzzle-solving and atmosphere above everything else. Even with the disappointing smaller puzzles, the overarching ones that are the centerpieces of each act are satisfying to slowly put together, but not captivating enough to distract from the brutally unfair challenges along the way. There’s simply too much in Scorn that works to push you away from it rather than pull you deeper into it, making even its relatively brief adventure a difficult one to suggest you give your time to.