Contempt is faithful to Giger’s work, but needs more dicks

A biomechanical body lies down with a glowing stomach.

Image: Ebb software

Scorn has been a rough game so far. It’s slow, sends you through twisting labyrinths with little guidance, offers no narrative comfort (at least early on), and is set in a dramatically awkward and grotesque world clearly inspired by the work of Swiss artist HR Giger. I found it an unpleasant, difficult experience. But if I’m honest, I think the inconvenience is the point. And in that, Scorn could be a successful game.

Developed by Ebb Software and released yesterday on PC and Xbox – I’m on PC – Scorn has been in development since 2014. After a failed Kickstarter campaign and a since-dumped plan to release the game in two parts, it reappeared on Kickstarter in 2017 to successfully secure funding and is now available to play. Calling itself “an atmospheric first-person horror adventure game set in a nightmarish universe of strange shapes and gloomy tapestries,” it also draws inspiration from Heideggeran philosophy.

I’ll let you, the reader, handle the philosophical angle, because that’s not my specialty and I don’t feel like commenting on Martin Heidegger’s work or how it applies to this game. I approach Scorn from the perspective of someone deeply moved by HR Giger’s work; I often appreciate art that is unpleasant, difficult and, intentionally or unintentionally, abrasive. I’m no expert on Giger’s biography or his intentions behind his work, but I know how I’ve reacted to his art. And that’s how I approach this game.


Contempt, in the five hours I’ve spent with it, appeals to me because it gives the player so much friction. I’m not necessarily having a good time, but still I’m drawn through the halls of this macabre plodfest, more adventure game than first-person shooter, because of how deeply the extremely Giger-esque art touches me.

As a trans woman who has spent most of her life in the closet, I have found that HR Giger’s work portrays a visceral air of doomed sex, sexuality and physical forms, a general sense of unease and confusion that resonates with how I world for most of my life. His images offer meditative spaces that are much more cerebral and in tune with my feelings of the world than the more simplistic, gore-for-gore’s-sake utility Hollywood has often reduced it to. That’s why I’m attracted to this game. And while Scorn isn’t for everyone (probably not for most), so far it manages to reflect what I get out of Giger’s art by refusing to bow to “AAA” gaming expectations that it’s easy to play and understand. is.

There is no hand holding. No card. No objective marking. The HUD elements are confusing (to a fault actually), and the puzzles take some time to wrap your head around. You can’t jump. You can’t squat. There are invisible walls everywhere, making Scorn feel more like a museum. The first “weapon” you get is nearly useless against the early enemies, and once you buy a firearm it’s hopelessly inaccurate. This game has one of the worst cases of “where the damn-am-I-must-go-now” I’ve experienced in years. And yet I want to keep playing it to the end.

Scorn manages to communicate and utilize in two key ways what I love about HR Giger’s work. But it fails in a third, perhaps fatal one.

The first success comes in breaking through the confusion and surrealism. I don’t know what anything will do. As a gamer, this makes me frustrated. But like myself, Claire, I’m glad to be so lost and forced into a place of ignorance.

The way it plays out is you encounter strange rooms and devices whose purpose is unclear. You try to activate it somehow, using the weird objects you pick up or pressing the A button, only to get frustrated when the animation has no effect. You then stomp through the halls, touching gross things over and over until you finally know where to go or which piece of dirt interacts with which pulsating organelle.

Gif: Ebb Software / Kotaku

This is annoying, no doubt, but I’d say, in Giger’s mind, this is how it should be. If this game were to assign random lore words and slogans to objects and spaces around you, or otherwise make itself friendlier, it would spoil the natural flow of bizarre nonsense that you have to master. The main character (so far) is silent and leaves my own thoughts to tell what I experience. Contempt becomes very personal in this vacuum of character and voice.

A game that pulls so directly from Giger should be inherently surreal and confusing. That said, many of these puzzles are the kind we’ve seen in other games before. What makes them work, for me at least, brings me to Scorn’s second most significant success to date: it brings to life the ‘mechanical’ of the ‘biomechanical’ source material. Seeing these kinds of art styles bend and slide through my manipulations gives me a sense of movement that Giger’s quiet works usually don’t have.

Combined, these two strengths give me a gaming experience similar to what I experience when I get lost in a Giger piece. If it had played smoother and softer, it would have been a lot more Prometheus than ‘Brain Salad Surgery’. Contempt by itself isn’t “Brain Salad Surgery,” “Necronom IV,” or “Birth Machine,” but I find as a video game it resonates with what I go to those works for.

Read more: When disgusting sexual art and adventure games came together

Scorn’s ultimate failure, in my opinion, has little to do with its clumsiness as a game. Sure, the protagonist walks way too slow (get used to holding down “sprint”) and you should really turn off motion blur and increase the FoV by at least a few notches. The game also suffers from a kind of hiccup that I am starting to notice more and more in Unreal Engine games. These are all valid reasons for players to bounce out of this game.

But for me the main flaw is the almost shocking lack of commitment to human sexuality (given the source material). I think Scorn could have stood to learn more of the eroticism of Giger’s work. There’s certainly gory body horror here, but the dilution of the erotic motifs robs Scorn’s art of the sense of humanity, however twisted and distorted it may seem, present in Giger.

I understand why this is probably the case. Any game that followed HR Giger’s depictions of deformed genitals, of monstrous penises and vaginas would probably end up in the adult-only realm. There are enough “inserting”, phallic images and gaping openings to point in the right direction, but Scorn suffers because he doesn’t go all the way through.

Strange architecture references sexuality in a screenshot of Scorn.

Scenes like this should be more explicitly erotic. Screenshot: Ebb Software / Kotaku

Honestly, more penises and vulvas and body parts would make this game that much better. The fingerprints of Giger-esque biomechanical sexuality are present in the design of the various tunnels and soaring phallic objects, but lack the clear details of actual human anatomy. In this one way, Scorn is almost a radio-friendly version of an otherwise explicit song. To be honest, I don’t know if I trust a modern video game to work tastefully with such themes, but the combination of horror, confusion and eroticism is a big draw of this art style for me and it’s a shame to put it this way, well yes, seen neutered in Scorn. Raw, hauntingly surreal eroticism is what so often draws me to Giger, and its omission undermines the play of potential vitality.

Scorn is not a fun game. It is confusing and painful to play. It’s like listening to Dillinger Escape Plan in reverse. But for those reasons, I’ll keep plodding through these corridors as long as the sloppy combat doesn’t sour the experience too much.

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