The inhuman tableau seen above, one of many, is a glimpse at Scorn. If you can’t comprehend what you’re seeing, or don’t want to, you’re probably not alone.
Even if there were more to be said about its released art, screens and footage, it would be better not to elaborate. Beyond the basic concept that it’s an exploration-heavy horror game you play in first-person, the developer Ebb software has been careful not to say much else.
They don’t appear to be interested in stepping outside the shroud of mystery a game like this immediately creates. Like a brutal car crash, what’s present may be stomach-turning, yet biology won’t allow you to turn away. A game like Scorn demands your attention at a single glance.
Obfuscation defines how the game’s small Serbian team has presented their Giger-esque living grotesque. From the scant description released, Scorn is a game about attempting to understand – the non-linear world is a “character in itself,” and nothing in it is without purpose, even if you don’t know what it is.
As is to be expected, this isn’t a journey with hints, waypoints or UI, nor any interruptions through cutscenes. The developers’ aim is to create a cohesive, interconnected world, where all storytelling, theme and design cues are expressed environmentally. It wouldn’t be shocking if it doesn’t contain any dialogue, either. As the Ebb puts it, the goal through its design is to “try to comprehend the sights around you.” A worthy challenge.
Predictably, Scorn was deemed too weird by publishers – though after the currently PC-bound game flew under the radar with its 2014 public debut on Kickstarter, where a PS4 port had been intended as a stretch goal, Sony did express some initial interest. Despite their campaign failing to raise enough funds, the team has since found a private investor.
Both the game’s original campaign teaser and a just-released new trailer speak to the developers’ uncompromising intentions. The beautifully realized direction here only raises questions, dropping viewers into anatomically surreal spaces without any explanation or direction, using only nightmarish visions and an appropriately evocative score to set the mood.
Scorn will also apparently use weapons as well as tools, but it sounds like the design is more akin to wandering around the world carrying one than something that might have devolved into a shooter fare if, say, EA had chosen to be the team’s publisher (not that they probably ever would).
Instead, the game’s NPCs will react differently to your presence, and may or may not be hostile when first encountered, giving the impression that whatever development time is being spent on weapons will probably only be used in certain scenarios.
Either way, the depiction in the newest trailer invokes Cronenberg’s Videodrome with an approach that’s as fascinating as it is nauseating – one that’s smartly left without context or resolution. Body horror as a theme has been around for a long time in various art forms, and it goes without saying that it’s a staple of Cronenberg and Giger. It’s a great thing to see a game commit so fully to exploring this particular type of psychology in such a cerebral way, and probably one where players are complicit.
In any case, the first half of Scorn, released on two episodes, is due next year on Steam. If they’re smart, Sony should jump on this for a console release. If it’s in VR, so much the better. While the prospect is terrifying, this feels like a game you want to experience crawling underneath your skin.