This weekend, I had the pleasure of playing “Scorn” from Ebb Software. Not only was I unable to put it down, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s not a long game. Playable within a day, but the length doesn’t matter. You’re going to spend plenty of time solving puzzles or simply taking in the scenery, and trying to understand what this dystopian wasteland is all about. If nothing else, this game gets major points for style. Think “Myst,” only designed by H.R. Giger and Zdzslaw Beksinsk.
Let me start by saying that perhaps I have a twisted idea of beauty. But the symmetrical, musculoskeletal appearance of the architecture, the satisfying morphology of the ligament-like mechanisms scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. Now, granted, this game does fit within the horror genre. Cosmic horror, I suppose. Isolation beckons and malformed creatures hound you that deal you. With limited ammo, you need to pick your battles carefully. Though the combat isn’t the focus. This is a puzzle game. Solving mechanisms to power giant machines that ferry you from one location to the next.
With no dialogue or lore to discover, your sense of disorientation mirrors that of your character. Waking after a fall, you make your way through facilities both bizarre and cruel in their construction. In fact, within minutes of play, you’re not altogether sure whether your presence is helpful or not. You travel through a world in sickness; an extinction, it seems. And there is nothing kind about it. Existence itself seems a painful thing. Often experiencing mechanisms that harm you or thrust harm on another.
Interpretation, Speculation, Conversation
There is so much to unwrap in this game, it’s hard to even know where to start. The game is woven with threads of symbolism and allegory. It’s a conversation starter, it’s a critical thinker. It’s a masterpiece of its own universe, and Ebb Software wants to share that with everyone. A different way to game, a different way to think as you experience.
The game is desolate save for enemies and one creature in particular that decides to make an unwilling host out of you. A parasite, that shares your consciousness from the beginning as you come to realize by the end. This journey is cyclical. It’s happened before, it will happen again. And every time, this parasite has kept you from reaching your journey’s end.
Given the uterine shape of so many mechanisms, umbilically joined structures and fetal-like creatures, there’s heavy reference to motherhood, birth, and also abusive relationships. For instance, to make your way to the final location of the game, you harm a mother like creature. You must rip into the creature to release an elevator. It bellows and wails, but only watches you carefully, calmly as you continue to harm it to reach your goal.
It makes you feel cruel; I apologized constantly as I performed these actions against it. Much like the inevitable harm that comes with a parent and child drifting apart. You mangle this creature in order to travel, literally crushing it to get where you need to go. It wails mournfully in pain as you leave; alone in its suffering. Like a mother mourns the loss of a child or an empty nest. You can do nothing to stop it, you have to move forward.
Meanwhile, the parasite hounds you. Latching onto you as an unwanted assistant. It gradually consumes you, threading itself through your body. As you reach the end, having pried the parasite from your body at no small damage to yourself, it returns in anger. Ripping into you, yet almost cradling you, it makes sure you’ll never be free of it again. It refuses your passage. Like a parent unwilling to relinquish their child now they’ve grown. Rooting you at the edge of possibility and hope, but conscious only of its own needs. Protecting you in a shell of despair.
Other possible themes regard commentaries on society and religion as well. Every corpse you pass is the same. Mouthless. Incapable of speech, yet joined by a collective consciousness commanded by those inhabiting the higher locations. There’s no information as to whether the inhabitants of this world can converse with one another, or whether they’re mindlessly following whatever’s beamed into their brains from their rulers. Or are the machines and the corpses an allegory for society’s perpetual grind against a capitalist wall. Forced to procreate and work and die and repeat in a never-ending cycle until it destroys itself. It’s all up to interpretation. And that’s what I loved about this game. You’re left thinking about what it all means, what it could mean, what it does mean. And Ebb Sofware is mischievously moot on the subject.
This game isn’t for everyone. For the trypophobic, it’s going to be rough. And it’s not short on disturbing imagery. The subject matter feels heavy, and the atmosphere is oppressive. So if you’re looking for something dreary and desolate to solve puzzles in, this is your game. You’re better off playing “Costume Quest” this October (no, seriously, they’re really fun games) if you’re looking for something more lighthearted.
For those of you creatives who appreciate the art that goes into video games, this is a phenomenal piece of work. The attention to detail is immense, the passion is felt in every symmetrical, bony corner. The colors and textures makes everywhere you look feel painted. Structures have the same monolithic presence extraterrestrial craft in “Alien“; feeling wildly insignificant. Like an ant scuttling about in the engine of a car. It’s a beautiful game. Isolating and thought-provoking, “Scorn” gets my wholehearted support and approval.