You wake up. The cave is dark. You don’t know how long you’ve been unconscious or why you’re here, but you just know you’ve got to get out. Before you is a LIDAR mapping scanner and a headset. You put on the headset, flip on the scanner, and then venture out into the dark, woefully unprepared to meet what’s ahead.
Scanner Sombre is a different kind of horror game. You’re not conserving supplies to use against monsters or hiding in shadowy corners to avoid them. Instead, this first-person adventure game mostly relies on its tense atmosphere and setting to sell its unnerving tone. Early on, you spend your time navigating while reading single-sentence thoughts from the narrator as they come across the screen and graphing your surroundings with the LIDAR scanner as a technological paintbrush to map out everything around you in colorful dots. However, later on you come across structures like temples and prisons. Something bad happened in this place; people died, and you’ll join them if you’re not careful.
Using the LIDAR to forge the path ahead is genuinely exciting, as the colorful dotted environments you create not only look lovely but are also essential in helping you solve puzzles. For example, early on you come across four bridges. Painting them with the LIDAR letd you see which bridge has gaps that you can jump over, while the others are broken or unnavigable. While these puzzles are never challenging, they help sell the fantasy that you are someone spelunking into mysterious caves filled with dangers – and not all of the dangers are environmental, either. There are enemies capable of killing you. To go into how they move or interact with you would dive too deep into spoiler territory, but I will say that I found these encounters to be incredibly tense and frightening.
Perhaps what’s most impressive to me is how effectively lean Scanner Sombre is. The entire game is only three hours. Mechanically speaking there isn’t much you do outside of using the scanner to solve puzzles, find your way, and outwit foes. However, the foreboding atmosphere and where its plot ultimately leads is satisfying enough that its gameplay and storytelling are compelling. Whether you’re coming across a new upgrade for your LIDAR or slowly mapping out a spooky tunnel and inching toward danger, Scanner Sombre is a consistently spooky and somber game that’s worthwhile for those who want to scratch that horror-adventure itch.