Scorn Should be on Your Radar if You’re a Fan of Horror

Ebb Software's upcoming horror shooter is shaping up rather well.

Posted By | On 21st, Jun. 2022

Scorn Should be on Your Radar if You’re a Fan of Horror

Scorn faces an uphill struggle for recognition. Slated for release this coming October, it is the first in a wave of impressive and iconic horror titles coming late-2022 early-2023; ex-Dead Space co-creator Glen Schofield’s The Callisto Protocol launches December 2nd, Dead Space, the remake, follows in January 2023, with the hotly anticipated Resident Evil 4 Remake now officially announced for release March 24th, 2023. It’s a phenomenal run of horror games in a relatively short space of time – what can Scorn do to stand out against such stiff competition?

For the uninitiated, Scorn is the upcoming first-person horror adventure from new studio Ebb Software. At first glance, it’s Giger-inspired interiors evoke a sense of deep space dread reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver’s Alien movies. It’s a game with strong visual identity, dense with squelchy atmosphere, but this isn’t sheer hellish landscapes for the sake of it. Scorn’s visual horror leans on juxtaposition; look closely and you’ll discover contrasting architectural styles, their conflicting appearance intended to unsettle players like the sight of rusted metal teeth poking out of rancid gumlines.

It’s clear the immense verticality in Scorn’s open spaces is inspired by Gothic architecture – cathedrals, mostly – imbuing a sense of order and purpose above the primordial chaos of organic biomechanical matter. Conversely, the claustrophobic design of Scorn’s asymmetrical passageways evokes an eerie pragmatism, as if constructed around a central hub, an ancient mechanical heart maybe, with ventricles and vessels sprawling outward labyrinth-like. The goal, as stated by Scorn’s principal environment artist Lazar Stojanović, is to create environments that are vaguely familiar but aren’t like anything players are likely to have seen before. For gameplay, it’s a fine balance between exploring Scorn’s maze-like structures without repeatedly getting lost that’s crucial here. Desperation sets in when you’re on the fringe, not quite knowing where you are.

This, to me, this is the crux of good horror. It isn’t just about gore or jump scares. No, it’s horror’s ability to warp your sense of familiarity as a means to crawl under your skin that leaves the strongest impression.

From the gameplay clips we’ve seen so far, it feels as though Scorn’s environment is its main character, acting as both torch-bearing hero and sadistic adversary. It’s an eco-system with natural logic to its structure akin to rotten tree trunks overrun with fungus, feeding a population of living – or perhaps undead – creatures, with portals, barriers and sockets nestled within its grotesque overgrowth. If there’s a loosely established environmental language, then there’s a set of rules; confronting and understanding the environment’s fear-inducing logic will be integral to progression. Ebb Software game designer Dusan Santovac states as much, in that “overcoming discomfort” to solve the game’s increasingly complex environmental puzzles will require “careful observation… which can be hard to do while experiencing fear or anxiety.”

And beyond the abstract oppressiveness of the game’s visual identity, how else does Scorn intend to scare the bejesus out of you? Well, for one, its invasive sound design does a stellar job of pulling you deeper into its macabre realms. There’s a fantastic video on Ebb Software’s YouTube channel which, essentially, is two-or-so minutes of in-game sound without any supporting visuals bar the Scorn logo. It’s a frightening listen, full of video game sound effect mainstays like footsteps and gunshots, but also the cacophony of destruction, of flesh ripping apart by the forces of gravity, of sinew stretching over shards of metal, with bloodcurdling shrieks, squeals, and contortions, all delivered with deft imprecision. Indeed, sound designer Dragoslav cites over on the game’s Kickstarter page that the audio team recorded a ton of objects being obliterated – vegetables, wood, meat, bone, et cetera – before adhering to the game’s art-driven theme of contrast by categorising all sounds as organic or mechanical.

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A boon for Ebb Software’s first outing as game developer is their acquisition of two heavyweight composers who’ll both be lending music and sound design to Scorn. First up is Bosnian DJ, producer, and sound designer Aethek, but perhaps most headline-grabbing is the Godfather of dark ambient music Lustmord is onboard, who’s tonal sensibilities will undoubtably add an emotional core to Scorn’s unsettling sound world.

There’s a short clip in the recently released gameplay footage montage of a wide-open space which the development team are calling the ‘Field of Decay’. We see a vertebrae-like bridge towering over the player, with thick fog hiding structures beyond. It fits the brief of vague familiarity, but the most striking aspect of this clip is the music. It’s pure tone, unshifting and uncomplicated. It’s surprisingly comforting, like a torch in the dark. Another contrast leading to more unease.

Perhaps even more unsettling for those who’re after a hint as to what it’s actually like to play Scorn, is the fact the game’s unique approach to gunplay doesn’t simply lean on the tried and tested survival horror tropes of ammo scarcity and restrictive inventory, but instead advises weaponry as purely optional tools. The weapon’s visual design straddles the line between organic and mechanical of course, with recognisable pistols, shotguns, and grenade launchers a part of your arsenal, but it’s the dual-purpose nature of the weapons that’s most striking. For instance, the game’s melee weapon doubles as a tool with which to interact with the environment, but its prone to overheating if used too much. There’ll be plenty of occasions where fleeing through Scorn’s maze-like corridors is the only option for survival.

Scorn’s attempt at balancing familiarity with strangeness can be fleshed out even further if we draw parallels to the work of surrealist painter Zdzisław Beksiński, whose art is another key touchstone on Scorn’s creative identity. See, Beksiński’s paintings are disturbing. They depict otherworldly dystopia’s where you’re never quite sure what you’re looking at. Beksiński himself states his work isn’t born purely out of morbidity though. No, it’s distressing nature comes from his own – as he puts it – physically exhausting exploration through his own psyche, a hostile unconscious void he suggests as discoverable inside all of us should we choose to burrow deep enough. His ideas propose a sacredness to our personal dystopias, and his artwork is an attempt at visualising the creative potential of the unconscious mind, oftentimes achieved by layering opposing images and themes. It’s again about harnessing a contrasting aesthetic; organic meeting biomechanical, cathedrals versus factories.

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How does this benefit Scorn though? What does it all mean? Well, as stated there’s a conflict at play in Scorn’s environment, but its dreamlike. Like Beksiński’s paintings, Lustmord’s music, like the entire Ebb Software development team’s artistic vision, art of this kind attempts to shine a light on pain. We’re seeing the power of nightmares, and their clarity is uncomfortable.

Great art is a canvas for you to project your innermost emotions onto. Scorn, for relative lack of real-world counterparts, is somewhat blank. It’ll absorb your biggest fears, tear them apart, warp them, then force feed them right back to you. If there’s one major hope I have for Scorn, it’s this.

Art of this nature is a cautionary tale on the fragility of the human body, of its mind and spirit. We’re destined to deteriorate, after all. If this all sounds a little too poetic, hyperbolic, or philosophical, just know I’ve borrowed this line of thinking from acclaimed film maker and one time Hideo Kojima collaborator Guillermo del Toro, who when describing Beksiński’s unique brand of surrealism stated its “hidden poetry tainted with death and rust.” This is exactly how I feel about Scorn, and it’s potential to reflect my biggest fears back to me makes it the most unsettling of any upcoming horror game.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


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