This review of Scorn contains spoilers.
Have you ever experienced something so very confusing, and yet made so much sense at the same time? And how do you break down such an experience over a review? This is my feeble attempt to dissect and convey how I felt about Scorn, made by Serbia’s Ebb Software.
Combine elements of body-horror and nods to both H.R. Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński in its visually stunning and grotesque environmental design, combined with it’s heavily world-driven narrative, and sprinkled with light puzzle elements and first-person combat, and you’ve got yourself a thoroughly complex and not-quite easy to understand journey at a first glance that will leave you wanting more of an explanation of the story at large, long after the curtains close.
With no dialogue or written lore anywhere in sight, Scorn tells a deeply complex and layered story centered around death and rebirth. But to say it in that way undermines what it tries to convey. Then again, it is entirely up to your own interpretation. The game relies on “show, don’t tell”, and its doing so pays off immensely.
You awaken to find yourself on a slowly dying alien world, surrounded by striking Giger-inspired architecture in some sort of birthing facility. You’re dropped right into the world (literally; the protagonist falls into the first area) with no map, no HUD (you get one a little later), no lore and no dialogue explaining who you are or what your objective is. And I think that’s probably the most standout thing in this entire game.
Scorn does not reward fast-paced action-style gameplay, and the puzzles and gun mechanics heavily reflect this. Every new area has its own set of small puzzles to complete; most are quite easy to get through, but they don’t require too much thought. They also help drive you through the game by leading you to more weapons and items whilst opening up more of area to explore.
The combat is purely slow and methodical, and for good reason. The ammo cap on your well-articulated weapons is quite limited, and reload stations are few and far between. As such, you don’t necessarily want to be hanging around trying to kill every single enemy you face. You want to either pick your enemies carefully, or just run to the next location or puzzle.
Ebb Software’s approach to Scorn’s narrative heavily relies on its world and actions. Each location you explore has its own themes and tell you a teeny-tiny bit of the story at large. Its a dying word; you see structures in varying states of decay, and the muted colours utilised throughout help reinforce that process of collapse and ruin. Filled with the remnants of what used to be along with the monsters that now inhabit the world, it’s hard not to see Scorn‘s setting was once thriving.
Scorn is also a game where you might feel remorse for your actions, even if it is for the “greater good” of your journey. When you encounter the only NPC in the first chapter you have the choice choice to either kill it for it’s arm or drag it’s weak body over to the door you need to progress, leaving it behind. At another point you need to sacrifice baby-like beings by literally putting them into some sort of juicer and squeezing out their blood. There’s quite a lot of violence throughout that not only reinforces the atmosphere and furthers narrative, but also makes you question what all your actions are really for at the end.
So with all that said, here’s my interpretation of the story.
Although it does deal with life, death and rebirth, I feel this is more of a story about breaking free from the shackles of your fate. The first character you play as dies at the end of chapter one and you assume the role of another for the rest of the game, seemingly trying to accomplish what the other could not. However, in a strange twist of events, the first character turns into a being that inhabits your body, acting both as a helper and your destroyer.
It feels like the first character was trying to force a change before they died. Once they did, they conclude that one cannot escape this horrible and decaying world. Now, due to their animalistic behaviour, the first character harms the second throughout the game. It tries to stop them from exiting the world and passing on to the next plane.
In a way Scorn feels like a fight and a pilgrimage, and its a pilgrimage to reach a citadel-type structure heavily adorned with carvings and statues depicting sexual acts. From there you end up at bodies up on makeshift cross-like structures, suggesting that it may be possible to pass on to the next plane. It looks like the second character may achieve this, but instead their chances of success are snuffed out.
In today’s world of canned experiences, Scorn just drags you right in. Dealing with a lot of tutorials and dialogue to explain what’s going on in a narrative is something we’ve all grown used to, but Scorn pushes you right in head-first and does little hand-holding. The way it tells its story really stands out as an experiment when it comes to narrative-driven titles. It’s absolutely worth taking your time to explore and really drink in the environment and try to work out what is going on in the world.
I may not properly get exactly what Ebb Software was trying to convey with this, and current breakdowns and in-depth looks at the narrative online express this immensely, but I what they did with Scorn paid off. It is one of the most thought-provoking and interesting gaming experiences I’ve had, and it’s one I won’t soon forget.
Scorn is available on Steam, Xbox Series X/S, and PlayStation 5.