It's always fascinating to see games use fresh ideas, mainly due to how hit-or-miss they can be. While the concept is not entirely original, Scanner Sombre breathes unique life into the typical "walking simulator." Inspired by games such as Gone Home and Dear Esther, Introversion Software's sixth major game release provides a breathtaking, and sometimes spooky, experience. That said, it could have been so much more.
Scanner Sombre starts you off waking up inside of a tent. Around you is nothing but pure darkness, but in the distance, you spot a rock with something sitting on top of it. Upon reaching the rock, you pick up a virtual reality headset and a LIDAR scanner. This device can scan the environment around you, lighting up the area with colorful dots. However, it doesn’t take long until you discover that something is very wrong.
As you play, upgrades for your scanner can be collected along the way, giving it abilities such as adjusting the scan radius, a burst scan that completely illuminates the environment in view and even a “material scanner” mode that helps to differentiate various objects. Exploration feels surprisingly natural, as the dots do a wonderful job at shaping the world. There was never a time I felt lost or overwhelmed by the visuals. In fact, there were a couple of moments all I could do was stare in awe at how amazing some sections looked.
Unfortunately, there simply isn’t much more to the gameplay beyond “scan the path and follow it.” The game never branches out, aside from a few short paths leading to dead ends. Scanner Sombre is a linear “point A to point B” experience.
There are a few mild platforming sections where you’re at risk of falling to your death, but nothing terribly complicated. For the most part, you just hold down the scan button and walk. There’s one easy puzzle near the end, but that’s about it. It would’ve been nice to have more challenge and variety to the gameplay. I would’ve liked to see branching paths, immediate threats, or even just more puzzles.
Another unfortunate drawback is that it’s ridiculously short. I managed to finish the game in just over an hour and a half, and that was with me taking my time and observing the visuals. There is a New Game+ mode that allows you to play through the game again with all of your upgrades but there simply isn’t much incentive to doing so. There’s just so very little replayability.
On the positive side, without delving into spoiler territory, I found the story to be quite interesting. While a good amount of it is told through text appearing on the upper-right a la self-monologue, the visuals and sounds alone contribute heavily towards the overall experience, and there were a couple of times I genuinely felt creeped out. On top of this, other than one somewhat awkward song near the end, the occasional bits of music added even more to Scanner Sombre’s incredible atmosphere.
It’s a shame, really. Scanner Sombre felt more like a glorified tech demo than a proper game. With its short length and mostly shallow gameplay, it’s a bit difficult to justify the $12 price tag. However, it boasts a very well done gimmick as well as a memorable atmosphere. If you’re looking for a short, but sweet exploration game, then this is for you. If you’re looking for something a bit meatier, however, you should probably give this a pass.