I just played half an hour of Scorn, the upcoming horror game with Alien written all over it, and not much happened. It takes some serious gall to present a horror game demo without a scary set piece or jumpscare, and as a teaser Scorn mostly pulls it off.
It opens with you being born in some kind of biomechanical factory. Your joints crack and crunch into place as you slide an umbilical cord out of your stomach. Looking down you can see your body is a stitched-together mass of grey, wet flesh. Every limb reveals uncomfortable-looking contortions: tendons appear more like hydraulic pistons, bones are barely hidden under the skin, threatening to pop out at any moment, and there’s a gruesome case of hangnail on every finger.
Whatever you are in Scorn, it should be wrapped in an extra absorbent towel, handed a warm cup of cocoa, and kissed tenderly on the forehead.
Instead, it’s left to wander the halls of the humanoid factory, sliding its hand into various meat-glove control panels, and solving puzzles to progress further. Everything is intentionally alien and abstract. There’s no narration, no obvious direction, and almost no UI, so you have to slow down and really look around the environment for clues on what to do next. It all works perfectly, immersing you in the horrifying surroundings without letting you get properly lost.
The puzzles themselves are a bit clumsier. The main goal is to get past a massive gate, which can only be opened by using two control panels on opposite sides of the room – so you need another person and you’re in a person-making factory. Having just witnessed your own birth, you know that the first step is to go and get an egg from the giant egg chamber. To do this, you’ve got to move various clusters of eggs around a grid so that the ‘living’ egg is within reach of a crane. It’s a simple matter of shifting the bigger, bulkier clusters to the back of the grid so you can manoeuvre the correct egg through the narrow, congested path that leads to the crane.
I start out by shifting a few eggs around to learn how the puzzle works and if there are any hidden limitations. However, those few, seemingly harmless movements make the matter of actually solving the puzzle so difficult that a developer – who presumably knows the solution and how to get there like the back of their hands – steps in and spends a few minutes frantically solving it. I dread to think how long I would have been stuck there trying to figure it out, which is frustrating because it’s a really simple, albeit arduous task.
With the egg successfully delivered I now get to wheel it around in a sort of baby carriage, the malformed creature inside gurgling in discomfort. We go from station to station preparing the egg for the final part of the hatching process, which sees a massive, circular saw lowering into the egg to split it open. If you follow all of the steps you’ll end up with an anguished humanoid in tow, barking with each baby bird step as you lead it towards the main gate’s control panel.
That’s the empathetic approach. If you’re feeling cruel you can skip a step that gives the creature a protective helmet, and instead of the saw cracking the egg open it will plunge straight into the helpless humanoid, leaving an explosion of limbs and gore from which you can pluck an arm for use in that two-person gate mechanism.
It’s all very atmospheric and I can’t wait to see more, but the total lack of jeopardy means there are still some pretty big questions left for Scorn to answer. It feels slick and polished so far, but how smooth will it be when there are enemies jumping at you? It’s plenty moody, but how scary is it, and will it lean on cheap thrills or carefully crafted set pieces to send spines tingling? As a body horror fan, this hands-on session has me excited, I just hope it doesn’t become unstuck as the full game expands in scope.