Scanner Sombre Review
Scanner Sombre is one of those games that’s almost impossible to explain, and do it justice. If I had to describe the game in one word, that word would certainly be “psychedelic”, as Scanner Sombre feels very much like the midway point between a cave exploration game, and a drug simulation, with its massive array of ever-changing neon colors, guiding you through your maze.
Scanner Sombre’s primary gameplay mechanic lies in your character’s ability to place colorful dots onto the walls of an otherwise pitch black cave. Without the dots, you’re blind, but with them, you slowly begin to piece together the entire cave system, and can easily find your way through. This creates a gameplay loop, more unique and mesmerizing than anything else I’ve seen in a video game, and often gives off the wonderful feeling of being trapped in a Georges Seurat painting.
The goal of the game is extremely simple: make your way through the cave. There are no real enemies, and very little to deter you from your goal. This is about where I would normally explain the “catch”, but really… there is none. Scanner Sombre is an intensely easy, intensely relaxing game, with extremely few opportunities to fail. Add that to the game’s beautiful soundtrack, consistent pacing, and extremely short length, of only about two to three hours, and you have a perfect casual experience. Sure, the game won’t challenge you in the traditional sense, but its gorgeous style, and the pure charm of mapping out a cave by luminescentally painting its walls should be more than enough to hold your attention. But if not for that, then maybe the dark and intriguing story, full of interesting twists.
It should be considered an accomplishment in its own right that this game manages to tell such a compelling story, with no dialogue aside from your character’s occasional muttering to himself. While these mutterings do clear up a large amount of the story, they leave so much more up to the imagination, and for the game’s settings to silently reveal. Yes, while your character does explain a good portion of the plot, it quickly becomes obvious that he’s just as curious as you, as both the character and the player work to unravel the mysteries of this strange system of caves, with so many questions being brought up naturally. “Where am I?” “Is this really just a cave?” “Who built these strange structures?”, and, potentially most chilling, “Am I alone?”.
Yes, the question of whether or not you’re the only person wandering about the cave is constantly looming over your head; sometimes in a legitimately creepy way. Though, the game is so short, and has such an interesting story, that I think it would be best to leave those questions up to you to discover for yourself.
Back to general gameplay, the game is extremely simple. You can walk, jump, look around, use your scanner and its various powerups and attachments, and that’s it. I would have enjoyed a bit more control over my character, such as with a crouch, or “walk slower” button, but it was never much of an issue, as the game was appropriately designed around its limited options, and never posed more than an extremely mild annoyance.
Using the scanner itself is extremely satisfying, as it should be, being the game’s only mechanic; but it was especially so for me. With my OCD, simply making sure each wall was completely painted was a unique, almost therapeutic joy, as not once did the repetition feel like a chore, and seeing everything slowly come together was a strangely surreal experience. But even without my love of seeing a completed picture, you’re not likely to find yourself bothered, as the moment the general gameplay might start to feel stale, the game immediately throws another upgrade at you, drastically increasing your speed and efficiency in an ineffably satisfying way.
At this point, I feel like I have to bring up the game’s replay value, as, being a three hour game, it can be hard to justify a full purchase. With that being said, although I feel like, logically, the game has very little in terms of replayability, I still found myself playing through it three full times after the first completion. Once, I sought to map out the entire system as best I could; finding little hidden details around the world, that I might have missed the first time around. After that, I tried to beat the game as quickly as I could, which only took about a half hour, at the most. Further after that, I tried a new challenge of beating the game while using the scanner as little as possible, trying to play the game largely blind, off of memory, and using the game’s fantastic sound design to orient myself. I explain this because, despite having so little in terms of replay value, the game is so, wondrously enjoyable, that I simply couldn’t put it down, even after knowing I’d seen all it had to offer.
Without any real performance or technical issues, I’m honestly hard pressed to find a single serious complaint about this game. That’s not to say it’s a certifiable masterpiece; just that it knows what it is, and doesn’t make the mistake of trying to be anything else. Sure, the game isn’t scary enough to be called a horror, not tight enough to be considered a platformer, and not complex enough to be a puzzle game, but despite having elements of each of those genres, it never feels like it’s trying to be any of them. Scanner Sombre is its own, unique experience, and should be treated as such. Of course, that naturally implies that the game isn’t for everyone, and that is absolutely true.
So much of Scanner Sombre is left up to the player. Even down to the appearance of your cave, everything you experience will be unique to you; and that certainly applies to your enjoyment as well. With so much of the game’s plot left ambiguous, different people may interpret the game in different ways. Likewise, with the game’s unique gameplay, some may find it indescribably fantastic, while others might find it dull. Like every single aspect of the game, each player’s opinion will vary greatly; but the good news is that the game has a free demo, so you can see if it clicks with you.
If you’re not immediately interested in Scanner Sombre, you likely won’t enjoy yourself much; but if you’re even remotely fascinated by its style or charm, it’ll be one of the most unique and engaging gaming experiences you’ve had.
- Completely unique
- Simple but enthralling visuals
- An enjoyable, casual experience
- Perhaps too short for some
- Not the kind of game everyone will enjoy