Scorn Review

Richard Walker

According to its developer, Ebb Software, Scorn is inspired by the works of H.R. Giger. I would argue that it's less an inspiration, more a wholesale cribbing of the Alien artist's disturbing oeuvre, replete with all of the ribbed bony detailing, biomechanical pipes and structures, psychosexual imagery, and other signature weirdness one would exclusively associate with the Swiss conjurer of iconic, macabre inventions. Were he still with us, he'd either blush at the flattering homage, or rush to the phone to call his lawyers. You can only wonder what Giger would have made of Scorn – a first-person horror that excels in building an ominous atmosphere and revelling in smartly orchestrated puzzles, before shooting itself in the foot with horrible combat.


Early on, Scorn does a fine job of generating a creeping sense of foreboding, as your tortured protagonist awakens from a slimy slumber, before embarking upon an icky adventure through offal, gloop, and a procession of increasingly fiendish, occasionally annoying, conundrums. Scorn gives you practically nothing in the way of assistance, and its steadfast lack of handholding, while admirable, can sometimes leave you scratching your head. For the most part, Ebb deploys visual signposting in a subtle but effective way, yet, there are rare moments where that signposting fails, and, as such, it's remarkably easy to miss something that's right under your nose. I spent a good forty minutes looking for a lift, for example, only to discover it tucked away in the corner of a room I’d revisited several times over. Sneaky or stupid? You decide.

After a few hours of soaking up the thick atmosphere, trudging through corridors made out of ribcages, pulsating skin, fleshy tendrils and pustules, puzzles give way to gunplay, and whenever there's a juncture that demands the use of a gun (a bony flesh gun, of course), Scorn takes a nosedive, and the experience falls apart. Combat encounters serve only to puncture what little tension has mounted, and your first weapon is an ineffectual tool that works like a jackhammer, spiking enemies at close-quarters. It’s rubbish. Why Ebb thought that combat in a game like Scorn was at all necessary is beyond me, and whenever it enters the equation, you can expect a pretty torrid time of it. Once you've acquired the handgun-style add-on and explosive burst attachment, you might start to feel like you’re finally in business, but ludicrously slow reload animations, poor range, and scarce ammunition soon dampen any hope that you may be able to adequately protect yourself.

Not that Scorn is particularly concerned with providing hope in its relentlessly hopeless world, your character a dessicated, vulnerable humanoid fated to be interminably prodded and poked during his efforts to escape the twisted bastion in which he finds himself trapped. Scorn is an uncompromisingly grisly experience, enveloped by an almost apocalyptic sense of doom. Being confined within the decrepit, infected halls of Scorn's hellish fortress, plodding along at a pace I’d generously describe as 'leisurely', you can't help but be struck by a sense of profound loneliness – this is not a place where you'll happily while away the hours, admiring the glistening slime oozing down the walls or the bone and gristle suspended from the ceilings. You’ll want to get the fuck out as soon as you can.

That's not to say that Scorn isn't visually arresting – there are times when you'll take a moment to breathe in the hellish landscape and intricately designed interiors, contemplating the sort of bleak tableau that 16th century artist Hieronymous Bosch might have painted. Here, the art direction is brought to sickly life by Lazar Mesaroš, each of the game's five acts possessing a distinctive palette, which gradually breaks free from vomit-coloured browns, greys, and greens, extending its repertoire to languid pinks, toxic purples, and sanguine crimsons. Its monsters are also suitably Boschian – bizarre lumps of meat that have sprouted legs to scuttle around and spew noxious acid, or barge you to the floor, chewing through what precious little health you have. Presumably they escaped an audition to star in the next Silent Hill.


Scorn also embraces body horror in a way that would have David Cronenberg giggling with delight, wormlike protuberances breaching your character's skin and progressively snaking around your limbs, as the parasitic creature inside you gradually takes over, causing you to stumble around the place like you’ve had one too many sambucas. It's quite nasty, stomach-churning stuff. In fact, there's literal stomach churning at some point, I'm sure. Even the game's switches, levers, and door mechanisms comprise stretching bands of muscle, sphincter-like holes in which to stick your fingers, skin flaps, and such. Lovely. In that sense, Scorn provides an effective horror experience, albeit one that doesn't really elicit much in the way of genuine terror. It’s certainly memorable.

What Scorn does do well is create a strong sense of dread and unease, which it squanders with needless combat. Despite these low points, Ebb's game does have its moments, and it's worth bearing in mind that this is the developer's first game. Indeed, there's real flair to more than a few aspects of Scorn, be it the way in which its puzzles are neatly constructed or its labyrinthine environments are put together. And even if its descent into darkness never truly digs beneath your skin, and its initial few hours of unease quickly ebbs away, Scorn isn’t without merit - there are many elements that have been well executed. Nonetheless, by the time you've struggled your way through to Scorn's disturbing denouement, you'll be questioning whether it was all worth it.


As far as horror games that ape the works of H.R. Giger are concerned, Scorn is certainly one of the most interesting examples around, and many of its puzzles are nicely executed. However, crappy combat cramps Scorn’s style, while the unrelenting bleakness of the thing will leave you feeling deflated.

Form widget

The soundscape by Aethek and Lustmord is pretty much all you’ll hear in Scorn, contributing to the oppressive atmosphere. There’s no dialogue, only sound effects and environmental, ambient audio. It works.


A rather impressive game from an artistic standpoint - Scorn’s bony spires and biomechanical structures are rendered in intricate, grisly detail. The upshot is, it’s such a dark and horrible place to be, you’ll want to escape it as quickly as you can.


Don’t expect any help in Scorn - you’re on your own, and the complete lack of handholding is a brave decision, making a lonely experience feel even lonelier. Puzzles are intuitive and rewarding, while the shoddy gunplay isn’t.


A slender five-to-six hour experience that thankfully doesn’t outstay its welcome. Its signposting could be better and the checkpoints are unforgiving, but apart from that, this is a relatively polished package. That said, you’ll probably play once and never again.


Which is just as well, because the achievement list is a 'one-and-done' thing, the full 1,000G earned in linear fashion. Simply play the game from beginning to end and you’ll bag the full complement of twelve - this is definitely the right choice for Scorn.

Game navigation