by Llewelyn Griffiths
reviewed on PC
As a self proclaimed enthusiast of walking simulators, it’s still easy to admit the genre has a few shortcomings. The often short and tight nature of this beast often provides an avenue for increased scrutiny. Understandably too, many people felt ripped off when Dear Esther offered an experience less than 90 minutes long for the same price of a huge game like Terraria. Fortunately with proceeding titles such as Gone Home, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Her Story, using dollar to time as a metric for this genre is quickly becoming obsolete. Walking simulators are about soaking in the atmosphere, analysing the story and coming away with a new experience. For the most part Scanner Sombre does exactly this, and it does it with a flourish. As a result I can assure you this review won’t contain any story spoilers.
The major problem with Dear Esther was that it didn’t take advantage of the genre. Watching someone play it on YouTube would offer a very similar experience to playing it yourself, sure, there were a few random events, but it was almost a movie. While remaining very linear Scanner Sombre gives you the grand illusion you are exploring a forgotten system of caves. The whole game is technically played in pitch darkness, but with LIDAR scanner in-hand you will gradually plot the entire system of caves. Pressing the left mouse button sends out a barrage of lasers, and for each laser-beam that hits a surface it gets plotted on your head-mounted display.
It genuinely feels like you’re carving the environment around you, never too sure what might be around the corner. Scanning the surroundings and gradually increasing the resolution has a similar satisfaction to cleaning a dirty car. This also solves two major issues with walking simulators and exploration games in general; walking rarely gets tiresome since you are always occupied and it’s nearly impossible to get lost as you leave a trail of laser-crumbs behind you.
The further you press on, you will acquire some minor upgrades to your scanner. These upgrades have little effect to the simplistic gameplay, but it provides excellent pacing between areas. Additionally small snippets of storyline are fed to you in the form of short paragraphs as you progress. Once or twice I was too preoccupied with playing I completely missed these, considering there is no voice acting, however I never missed too much to spoil my experience.
It’s undeniable Scanner Sombre has a distinctive style, the neon visuals and the occasional glitches in the video compression provide an experience that only games can offer. Your imagination will go wild as you slowly unveil a statue or an alter from the darkness. The glitches in your headset also provide some interesting story beats, whereby you are never too sure what’s real and what isn’t.
Unfortunately these moments of unease and terror Scanner Sombre is trying to achieve often fall a bit flat. The brief paragraphs of text often feel emotionless, when they are very clearly trying to make you feel sadness or disgust. I can’t help but think adding voice acting would be far more engaging, and for a game that is so short the story feels a bit too complete. The cryptic verse of Dear Esther gave you a lot to ponder, but Scanner Sombre didn’t achieve that level of mystery for me and it left little desire to play it a second time.
PERFECT FOR VR
That certainly doesn’t mean I had a bad experience, overall Scanner Sombre is very memorable, it’s brilliant to see developers like Introversion Software stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new. While it does have some issues presenting the backstory itself; feeling a bit more like an experiment than a complete game, the moment-to-moment of exploration is unique and unforgettable. Hopefully this will soon get VR support considering it looks perfect for the platform.
An interesting twist on exploration, distinctive visuals
Story lacks impact