Scorn is one of the most visually distinctive games released in recent times. Clearly inspired by the work of HR Giger, the game’s environments combine mechanical complexity with biology to create a highly unnerving experience. It’s sci-fi, but not high-tech, with analog mechanics, skeletal metalwork, and the occasional glimpse of something truly alive.
On the surface, Scorn looks like a first-person shooter, but it has more in common with Myst or The Witness than Doom. It’s a slow-paced, brooding title that requires puzzle-solving and careful exploration – but with a small team at the helm and a nearly 10-year development cycle, this Unreal Engine-based game 4 Is it properly tweaked? And on Xbox Series X, how good is AMD’s FSR 2 image reconstruction?
Scorn’s visual design is perfect from the moment you look at the title screen. The environments are very ambiguous – vaguely mechanical, but ribbed with bone-like arcs and encrusted with vascular tubes. Everything is dilapidated, worn and glistening with damp. But some mechanics still seem to work and hint at a larger, unknown purpose. As you progress, the organic elements take over, with guts and veins smeared all around. Humanoid creatures can be found, merged into bizarre arrangements, or thrown away like trash. Your character is no different – shortly after starting the game, you are attacked by a parasite, which slowly envelops you. The style of the game is weird, uncomfortable, and completely unique to the game.
Expect to see unique and stunning artwork for every location in the game. Crumbling ceilings with flooded light, elaborate contraptions shrouded in mist, a temple criss-crossed with webs of flesh – it’s all eye-catching and visually compelling. So much care and attention to detail has gone into each space. All of these works of art would be in vain if the technology wasn’t there to back them up, of course. Scorn benefits a lot from its restricted scope and reliance on static opaque models to really increase the overall level of fidelity. There’s a ton of geometry etched into every surface, for example. The level of consistency is really something here, especially for a low budget game. The cards are ornate and rich in detail in a way that few other games can match.
But that doesn’t mean everything is perfect. For starters, even though Scorn is a current-gen exclusive – released on Series S, Series X and PC – the overall visual impression is definitely that of a last-gen game, albeit an excellent one. Don’t expect boundary-pushing rendering features like ray tracing, for example, and while environments look very dense at reasonable distances, at close range you can see the limits of traditional geometric meshes, in especially those that were designed around the constraints of older hardware platforms.
The resolution metrics are actually quite simple on the surface: the Series S renders at 1080p internally, while the Series X tops out at 1440p. I tested on a variety of scenes and couldn’t find evidence of lower pixel counts, although dynamic resolution is a possibility. However, when I started to take a closer look at the image quality, I noticed a handful of quirks – factors that suggest the use of some truly cutting-edge technology.
The first and most obvious clue is the difference in detail resolution between the two machines. While the Series S looks a lot like 1080p, the Series X has an overall resolution that is surprisingly close to 4K, even at very close viewing distances. Indeed, the presentation holds up well even to the fully-optimized PC experience – with only small, artifact-laden trails on the particle effects. The problem here is that these elements don’t have motion vectors, so some temporal AA techniques can sometimes struggle with them.
The PC version supports rebuilding – but only AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution 2 (FSR 2) and running it in quality mode produces a visually identical effect to the Xbox Series S, down to the same particle issues. The stereotypical FSR 2 image quality defect – severe deocclusion artifact – is much more difficult to observe here on the Series X, however. discovered. There are some disocclusion artifacts on Xbox Series X, but they tend to be quite mild.
I do think, however, that there are a few key factors that make deocclusion less of a problem in this particular game. Scorn has a first-person perspective without complex animation, a low-contrast visual style, and lots of film grain, which can’t be turned off. Ultimately, the first-person perspective and game-specific aesthetic fit FSR 2 perfectly, and as my work on the game neared completion, I did indeed receive confirmation from the developer that the upscaler AMD’s smart is in place on the Series X version.
S-series? It’s straight 1080p, with no obvious oversampling. The use of FSR 2 is significant, as to our knowledge this is the first deployment of FSR 2 in a console title. Although there have been no technical barriers preventing developers from using FSR 2 in console games since its release several months ago, development delays seemed to prevent its immediate integration into console software. .
In terms of performance, the Series S offers a virtually locked 60fps update throughout the game. Combat, cutscenes, exploration – it all runs smoothly. I did notice that the Xbox Junior occasionally dropped a single frame when traversing through more demanding environments, but this wasn’t a common issue and wasn’t particularly noticeable.
The Series X is largely the same – a generally solid 60fps with the odd double frame. But there are a few areas where the game suffers from more serious frame rate issues. Cutscenes in the game can suffer performance drops, including the opening sequence, which drops as low as 43 frames per second. Combat can sometimes cause the frame rate to drop momentarily, especially when alpha effects are on screen. Finally, there are a few cases where the environment itself was complex enough to cause a prolonged performance issue. It’s important to point out that the Series X is at 60 fps the vast majority of the time, but these performance issues are puzzling.
I say this because the Series X generally offers a much larger resolution advantage over the Series S than what we see here. 1080p to 1440p is just a 78% improvement in raw pixel count, while 1080p to 4K or 1080p to 1800p is a more common split in typical resolution between the two machines. There’s also no obvious difference in other visual settings between the consoles – so what’s going on?
Well, oversampling techniques have a cost in frame time, and more advanced methods take longer to compute. FSR 2 can be particularly expensive, and it’s possible that the calculation per 4K frame could take several milliseconds on the Series X. In a 16.7ms frame, that’s quite a long time, which might explain why the Series X is lagging behind the S-series in terms of performance. despite only a slight increase in raw pixel count. It also indicates why we don’t see similar oversampling technology on the S – the computational cost may just be too much. In short, high-end scaling solutions like FSR 2 are clearly good for console gaming, but they come at a cost – there’s no “free lunch” in using them.
Getting back to the game itself, Scorn isn’t for everyone. It is enigmatic, slow and very difficult. You are dropped into a world without any instruction and you must figure out how to progress with few clues. It bears some similarities to old school adventure games and is deliberately obtuse in the same way. Moreover, there is no text, no dialogue and an almost non-existent plot. It’s a great choice for Game Pass, as Scorn is a game worth trying, but I suspect many players won’t have the drive to progress very far. It will take a certain type of gamer to truly savor what this game has to offer – but those gamers will find plenty of visual rewards awaiting them. Scorn offers a dense, beautifully designed world that often looks remarkable.