Scorn looks like Giger, but it might play like The Witness.

Scorn looks like Giger, but it might play like The Witness.

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Scorn seems to balance on a slimy ledge between “interestingly disturbing” and “deliberately grotesque.” In the first hour or so of the game, which has no tutorials, I’m introduced to an unpleasant biotechnological setting, shown how the game’s many confusing puzzles will link together to tell a story without words, and repulsed by the way it sometimes goes beyond its Giger-inspired fleshscape and into less impressive straight body horror.

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The puzzles are the heart of Scorn. Even though it looks like a first-person shooter and sometimes gives you what looks like weapons, this game is all about your brain. The game starts with your mysterious main character ripping themselves out of a landscape that seems to be alive. Scorn doesn’t tell you what to do or how anything works on-screen, so you have to walk through the gently undulating corridors of its world and sometimes put your hands into horrible machines just to see what happens.

This self-directed method works well, which is to Scorn’s credit. Quickly, you are given (or, more accurately, violently implanted with) equipment that lets you control biotech machinery, and you have to figure out what the hell it’s all for. The players are then drawn to a single puzzle—open this big door—that turns out to be made up of several smaller puzzles that must be linked together.

One puzzle is about getting a huge, disgusting egg out of a wall, but it’s just a sliding puzzle in disguise. In another, I had to use what looked like a bolt gun from a slaughterhouse to shoot down floating, steam-spewing machines to… feed a huge column? It’s a very clever way to tie the game into the world and the world into the game, and the mix of hands-off design and very strange places makes it a fun challenge to solve.

The story of Scorn seems to be as vague as its puzzles.

I imagine that figuring out what’s going on in this world will take as much thought as playing the game, but it’s clear that we’re in a horrible place that has gone even worse to seed. Most of the time, it’s very different from other games. It’s a great tribute to Cronenberg, Giger, and maybe even Junji Ito.

On one occasion, though, I thought it was more like agony, with a more gleeful, voyeuristic kind of unpleasantness. Without giving too much away about how to solve the puzzle, the key to getting out of this first area is to use a person who looks like a fetus as your way out. You may feel differently, but to me, having to repeatedly cut them up and watch them writhe, scream, and beg you to stop felt less like a mystery and more like a challenge. It made me feel sick, but not in the way I’d expect from what seems to be a quiet, creeping horror story.

I’m very curious to see how much this more obvious grimness becomes a part of the game as a whole, especially since it completely changes the mood set by the other puzzles. At its best, Scorn feels like a deeply strange, deeply thought-out approach to more open-ended puzzles, maybe most like The Witness. I’d like to see more of that, but if you’re looking for something really bad, it seems to have you covered there, too. The key to its success will be finding a balance between these two sides.

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