Scorn is a very powerful and unforgettable nightmare | Review

How much we fantasized about the expressive power of Scorn; how much, every time the game has reappeared, during a long and troubled gestational cycle, which lasted almost ten years, we have let ourselves be ensnared and disturbed by the terrible visions of him. Those fleeting glances at worlds in decay and at almost human creatures, but empty and emaciated, were enough to convey very intense emotions, to which it was difficult to give a shape and a name, as always happens when one is faced with horror.

Not the violent and overwhelming one that makes you scream, but the one that takes your heart in your hand and looks you in the eye, and from whose gaze it is impossible to find shelter. Anguish, decay, corruption, have a magnetic appeal, and it is mainly on this idea that Scorn seemed to hinge.

And yet, let me tell you: you are not ready. There is nothing, in the little but still significant that we have been granted so far, that really gives the dimension of how intense Ebb Software's vision is, how powerful this imagery is that yes, fishing with both hands in the fishy basin of distorted horrors of Hans Ruedi Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński, but has its own very strong identity, which goes beyond the work of the two inspiring artists.

Crossing the ruined world that is the setting of the game, the references to the biomechanical surrealism of the first are evident, to its intricate but harmonious forms, which could be made of flesh as much as metal; of the second there is above all the decadent representation of the human being, no longer wrapped in its comforting shell, the skin, deprived of the strength of the muscles, and who is then only tendons and bones, a vacuity without meaning and without hope.

But there is more, I said. They also put a lot of their own, the guys from the Serbian development team, to make this hallucinatory journey into an alien world memorable. It is. It is impossible not to be terrified by the evocative power of visionary architectures, within which we find a cruel but perfectly functional biomechanics.

The imaginative value of Scorn

The first two hours are masterful, in this sense, because they immediately set the tone and sense of the whole production, staging what has just been written with overwhelming effectiveness. There is a particular taste, in Scorn, for the altar, for a composition of the scene and of the level design which therefore relies on a central element, which first of all has a very strong evocative charge, and then it is often the solution or the destination of what the development of play foresees.

It is therefore no coincidence that the best moments of the game, peaks with an absolute and indelible impact, take place in this context. The first steps, we said, around a high monolith, which emanates a terrible solemnity: gruesome machinery is used, which immediately demonstrates the crudeness of the tones, and, also, one becomes familiar with the logic of the puzzle according to Ebb Software, Why Scorn is above all an exploratory adventure in which to solve environmental puzzles and puzzles.

Further on, you come across other moments of a similar setting, in which a symbolic center radiates power and directs the action, but it would be truly criminal if I were to reveal even a small part of it, because so much, so much, gives the sensation of discovery. Here it is not accompanied by the usual exaltation, but by anguish, but there is an element in common with the most common declination of the discovery: amazement.

There are passages that really leave you speechless, scenes with a perfect composition that elevate the imaginative value of a world that at a certain point also seems to want to reveal itself, but which instead remains the enigmatic background of the suffered gait of the equally enigmatic hero.

A further element of that attraction that creates an indissoluble bond between work and player, practically impossible to sever before the journey reaches its conclusion. It's true, in the approximately six hours required to complete it, there are also some less inspired moments, above all in the more labyrinthine passages, when deformed bodies, bruised tentacles and purulent openings are so concentrated as to be almost repetitive, but it is almost physiological that way, given the average quality of the show offered, very high, which would have been unsustainable and probably also heavy and emptied of its impact, if spread over the entire duration of the game.

The other side of the work

If so far I have only spoken of the imaginative power of Scorn and little of its playfulness, it is because it is the first that bears the weight of the whole production, in which the second is very traditional and simplistic. The game is certainly an exploratory adventure, and as such it is proposed effectively, because you need a certain amount of attention to understand where to go and to guess in which direction to take the next steps.

In this perspective, environmental puzzles are generally always understandable, functional to make the progression more significant but which go little beyond pressing that button or activating that mechanism. What works less are the puzzles to be solved instantly, nothing that hasn't been seen in other congeners and which never intelligently exploit the imagery of the game. It's even worse for the shooting component, which is fake.

The moments in which it is necessary to use the weapons are fortunately few, because there is nothing that works, from the feeling of the weapons (and out of four, two are totally useless) to the impact on enemies to general precision. They almost break the immersion, as clearly evidenced by a sort of boss fight in the finale, completely anticlimactic and artificial.

Finally, there is a discourse to address regarding the narration. Like many other genres, Scorn is a work in which there is no explicit narrative, and it is up to the player to put the pieces together to try to make sense of what lives. To allow him to do this, however, you need to be good at disseminating significant clues during the adventure, using an environmental narrative that really allows you to make a work of deduction.

The game seems to forget this, because yes, there are some, few elements that could work in this sense, but the general impression is that much, too much is left to a hermeticism with a taste of vagueness rather than impenetrability. If one thinks of the effort made to create such an imaginative world, of such expressive power, it is almost criminal that one cannot at least perceive its narrative foundations. Assuming there are, just to be clear.

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