Us humans are used to keeping organs and innards on the inside of our bodies. Seeing the bloody, lumpy mess outside of our skin tends to make most sane people want to run in the opposite direction. SCORN is changing all that. This unnerving yet - oddly - not particularly gruesome survival-horror-FPS (despite the weirdly clean organs that make up guns and machines) is creating its own horror genre not hitherto seen in games, where your surroundings look like the lovechild of an engineer and a particularly artistic coroner. Not surprising when you consider that the inspiration behind SCORN ranges from Metroid Prime to Silent Hill, fusing to spawn a world that basically looks like it belongs in an Alien prequel.
Like the eerily ribcage-like corridors Kane walks down in Alien before he stumbles upon the Engineer, the decor in SCORN has a serious H.R. Giger vibe. Oddly phallic shapes, buildings that look like they’ve been grown or are the insides of some hollowed-out skeleton: it really looks like the home of the Xenomorph. Only difference is that some parasitic organism appears to have spread throughout the world, covering walls and floors to make every step potentially squishy and bloody as hell. Mind you, I might be wrong. Very wrong, in fact. This surreal world might very well be post-civilisation, where the inhabitants and their technology have become symbiotic. It’s a level even the Engineers didn’t reach in Alien, and in an age where we might soon have microchips implanted in our hands we could be seeing a glimpse of the far-flung future...
See, SCORN doesn’t tell you a whole lot about the world you find yourself in. You start off “isolated and lost inside this dreamlike world”, filled with a nonlinear exploration of “different interconnected regions”. Billed as survival horror, you’re outfitted with guns and you’ll have to explore to find resources and figure out what the hell is going on. The good news is that you’re humanoid… except you’re wearing an exoskeleton instead of clothes and your skin glistens a lot more than us homo sapiens are used to. Thanks to your borderline-grotesque biology, there are various implements which emerge from your arm and allow you to interact with the undoubtedly alive technology that you’ll meet at every turn.
Similar to the organic-looking spacesuit of the Engineer and their fondness for bioweapons, SCORN takes an inventive approach towards guns. Borderlands gives you an SMG that screams when you fire it. Fallout: New Vegas gives you self-aware armour. SCORN gives you weapons that are… alive. And not as in ‘they have a voice’ alive. As in squirming, wriggling, definitely-bio-engineered weapons with an exoskeleton and flesh. The interchangeable barrels look like they’re the main creatures, which slot into the handle in the same way someone might put on a prosthetic limb. Bioluminescent bullets are popped in with the kind of fleshy ease that surgeons are probably familiar with and… I’m going to stop making these comparisons now. It’s practically on the same level as Xenomorphs, who were the Engineer’s mysterious bioweapons - although SCORN’s guns are unarguably more controllable than the black, ravenous Alien.
Making Giger proud
Inspiration behind SCORN ranges from surrealists H.R. Giger and Zdzislaw Beksinski, to the horror legends Cronenberg and Carpenter, and otherworldly writings of H.P. Lovecraft, J.G. Ballard, and Franz Kafka. What do they all have in common? Every single one explores the boundaries of the human, where our bodies become mutilated and mutated. Each one challenges what we think it means to ‘be human’, whether that’s through Cronenberg’s striking visual effects in The Fly or J.G. Ballard’s sincere philosophical questions. SCORN has these themes in abundance. While you’re not exactly playing a human, we can’t help but interpret its world from a human perspective. It’ll take a while for players to get used to the biomechanical technology and architecture, and it’s this journey that makes SCORN a new type of horror explored tentatively in the Alien movies.
From the looks of the gameplay that’s been released so far, the horror doesn’t depend on gore, or jumpscares, or gross monsters. It plays on our apprehension of the surreal, on its unknown rules and our a biased frame of reference when it comes to deciding how we feel about SCORN’s fleshy, organic, yet ordered world. Flesh for us equals danger, pain, and death. In SCORN it’s normal. Part of any good horror genre is an initial unfamiliarity where everything we know has been upended. For Alien it’s the facehugger giving the uncomfortable feeling of male rape, to having the chestburster incubating like a perversion of pregnancy in the hosts. SCORN takes this unfamiliarity a step further by eliminating the usual barrier we think exists between flesh and technology, and then turning it benign and normal. The very fact that this theme isn’t violent makes it more unnerving, as it’s far more unsettling to see something distressing accepted as ordinary.
You might feel an urge for a shower after reading this, but you won’t have to wait long if you’re eager to sample its surreal world and get your Alien fix. Look out for SCORN coming to you sometime in 2018, published by Humble and currently looking for more funds on (opens in new tab).