Scorn seems to be teetering between the “intriguingly disturbing” and the “willfully grotesque”. In the hour I’ve played the game (its opening section without a tutorial) I’ve been presented with a really nasty biotech environment, shown how its many opaque puzzles link together to form neat chains of wordless narrative, and been has gently repelled by occasionally going beyond his Giger-debt carnal landscape and into a less impressive direct body horror.
The core of Scorn is in its puzzles. It may play from an FPS perspective and occasionally offer you what appear to be weapons, but this is a brain game at its core. Opening with your mysterious main character literally ripping himself out of his seemingly living landscape, Scorn gives no on-screen instructions on what to do, or how anything works, leaving you to wander the gently undulating corridors of his world, popping in from time to time. when hands on horrible contraptions just to see what happens.
Scorn’s merit is that this self-directed approach works well. Quickly, you’re given (well, violently implanted) equipment that allows you to manipulate biotech machinery, leaving you to try and figure out what the hell it’s all for. The player is then drawn to a single puzzle (unlocking this big door) which they gradually realize is actually made up of multiple smaller puzzles that need to be chained together.
These range from the eerily familiar (a puzzle about retrieving a huge, disgusting egg from a wall is actually a simple sliding puzzle in disguise) to the downright bizarre (one section had me using what looked like a slaughterhouse bolt gun). to destroy steam-spewing floating machines in an effort to… feed a huge column?) It’s a very elegant way of linking the gameplay to the world and vice versa.and the mix of hands-off design and deeply unknown locations makes it a rewarding challenge to solve.
Scorn’s story seems intentionally left as blank as the puzzle solutions (I imagine playing this world will take as much mental effort as the gameplay), but it’s clear we’re in a horrible place that’s been messed up even more. For the most part, it’s fascinatingly unique as far as gaming goes, a worthy ode to the likes of Cronenberg, Giger, or even Junji Ito.
On one occasion, though, I felt she was getting closer to something akin to Agony, taking on a more playful, voyeuristic character. Without giving away too much of the solution, the main puzzle of this opening zone centers around using a near-fetalized person as a means of escape. Your opinion may vary, but having to mutilate them repeatedly (watching them writhe, scream and beg you wordlessly to stop) felt less intriguing and more provocative. It disgusted me, but not in the way I expected from what otherwise seems like a chilling, silent exercise in horror..
I’ll be very interested to see to what extent this darker aspect becomes part of the game, not least because it completely changes the mood created by its other puzzles. In the best case, Scorn already seems like a deeply strange and thoughtful approach to more open-ended puzzles., perhaps most easily comparable to The Witness. Personally, that’s what I’m hoping to see more of, but if it’s a dose of real discomfort you’re after, he seems to have that covered as well. The balance between these two facets will be the key to your success.