Scorn is one of the most visually distinct games released in recent memory. Clearly inspired by the work of HR Giger, the game’s environments combine mechanical intricacies 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. This is a slow, brooding title that requires puzzle solving and careful exploration – but with a small team at the helm and a nearly 10-year development cycle, is this Unreal Engine 4-based game properly polished? And on the Xbox Series X, how good is AMD’s FSR 2 image reconstruction?
Scorn’s visual design is pitch-perfect from the moment you look at the title screen. The environments are highly ambiguous – vaguely mechanical, but grooved with bone-like arches and inlaid with vascular tubing. Everything is dilapidated, worn and glistening with moisture. But some mechanisms still seem to work, hinting at some larger, unknown purpose. As you progress, the organic elements take over, with guts and veins scattered around. Humanoid creatures can be found, fused together in bizarre arrangements, or discarded as trash. Your character is no different – right into the game you are attacked by a parasite that slowly envelops you. The style of the game is weird, awkward and completely unique in gaming.
Expect to see unique and breathtaking artwork for every location in the game. Decaying ceilings with light streaming in, elaborate objects surrounded by fog, a temple criss-crossed by webs of flesh – all are eye-catching and visually compelling. So much care and attention to detail has been packed into every space. All that artwork would be for naught if the technology wasn’t there to back it up, of course. Scorn greatly benefits from its limited range and reliance on static opaque models to really increase the overall level of fidelity. There’s lots of geometry carved into each surface, for example. The level of consistency is really something here, especially for a lower budget game. Maps are ornate and detailed in a way few other games can match.
But that does not mean that everything is perfect. For starters, while 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 anything in the way of cutting-edge rendering features like ray tracing, for example, and while environments look very dense at reasonable distances, you can clearly see the limitations of traditional geometry meshes, especially those designed around the limitations of older hardware platforms.
The resolution metrics are actually pretty straightforward on the surface: the Series S renders at 1080p internally, while the Series X reaches 1440p. I tested across a variety of scenes and could find no evidence of lower pixel count, although dynamic resolution is a possibility. But when I began to examine the image quality more closely, I noticed a handful of oddities – factors that indicate the use of some truly cutting-edge technology.
The first, most obvious clue is the difference in resolution between the two machines. While the Series S appears very 1080p-like, the Series X has an overall resolution that looks strikingly 4K, even at very close viewing distances. Admittedly, the presentation holds up well even against the fully maxed PC experience – with only small, artifact-riddled traces of particle effects. The problem here is that these elements don’t have movement vectors, so some temporal AA techniques can struggle with them at times.
The PC version supports reconstruction – but only AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution 2 (FSR 2) and running it in quality mode produces an effect visually identical to the Xbox Series S, right down to the same particle issues. However, the stereotypical FSR 2 image quality shortcoming – significant disocclusion artifacts – is much harder to observe here on the Series X. Typically, the FSR 2 presents a sort of sizzling artifact pattern when certain screen elements are exposed. There are some disocclusion artifacts on the Xbox Series X, but it’s usually pretty mild.
However, I think there are a few key factors that make disocclusion less of an issue in this game. Scorn has a first-person perspective without complex animation, a low-contrast visual style and a lot of film grain, which cannot be turned off. Ultimately, the game’s first-person perspective and specific aesthetic are an excellent match for FSR 2, and as my work on the game reached its conclusion, I actually received confirmation from the developer that AMD’s clever upscaler is in place in the Series X version.
Series S? It’s a straight 1080p, with no obvious upsampling. The use of FSR 2 is significant, as this is to our knowledge the first implementation of FSR 2 in a console title. While there have been no technical barriers preventing developers from using FSR 2 in console games since its launch several months ago, development times have seemed to preclude its immediate integration into console software.
Performance-wise, the Series S offers a virtually locked 60fps refresh rate throughout gameplay. Combat, cutscenes, exploration – everything runs smoothly. I did notice that the junior Xbox occasionally dropped a single frame during playthroughs in more demanding environments, but this wasn’t a common problem and wasn’t particularly noticeable.
The Series X is largely the same – a generally solid 60fps with the odd duplicate frame. But there are some areas where the game suffers from more serious frame rate issues. The game’s cutscenes can suffer performance drops, including the opening sequence, which drops as low as 43 fps. Combat can sometimes provoke a temporary frame rate drop, especially when alpha effects are displayed on the screen. Finally, there are some cases where the environment itself was complex enough to cause a long-term performance problem. It’s important to stress that the Series X is at 60fps the vast majority of the time, but these performance issues are strange.
I say that because the Series X usually offers a much bigger resolution advantage over the Series S than we see here. 1080p to 1440p is only a 78 percent improvement in raw pixel count, while 1080p to 4K or 1080p to 1800p is a more common difference in typical resolution between the two machines. There’s no readily apparent difference in other visual settings between the consoles either – so what’s going on?
Well, upsampling techniques have a frame time cost, and more advanced methods take longer to compute. FSR 2 can be particularly expensive and it’s possible that it could take several milliseconds to compute per 4K frame on the Series X. Within a 16.7ms frame, that’s quite a chunk of time, which could explain why the Series X lags behind Series S in performance despite only a modest increase in the number of raw pixels. It also suggests why we don’t see similar upsampling techniques on S – the computational cost may simply be too great. In short, advanced upscaling solutions like FSR 2 are clearly great 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 cryptic, slow and very difficult. You are dumped into a world without any instructions and expected to figure out how to proceed with little clues. It bears some resemblance to old-school adventure games and is deliberately obtuse in much the same way. In addition, there is no text, no dialogue and an almost non-existent plot. It’s a great fit for Game Pass, as Scorn is a game well worth checking out, but I suspect many players won’t have the drive to go very far. It will take a certain type of player to really enjoy what this game has to offer – but those players will find plenty of visual rewards waiting for them. Scorn delivers a dense, beautifully designed world that often looks remarkable.
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