Do you remember stippling in art class? The practice was meant to emulate the painting process behind pointillism–an art movement made popular in the late 1800s by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. These days the technique has been largely diluted into using a sharpie marker to speckle the canvas with dots of ink, but the values of this approach remain intact: maximizing the luminosity of each color while preserving its chromatic character.
Outlines dampen the color by shifting the viewer’s focus to the definition of a line; eliminating these boundaries leaves only each color’s vibrancy, both alone and in tandem, to trick our minds into distinguishing the subject matter from the barrage. Color alone is used to create the illusion of a contoured composition.
Scanner Sombre does just this, but the game hands you the paintbrush (read: scanner) and sends you off into the dark abyss.
Scanner Sombre depends on the unknown to propel you forward as an all-encompassing blackness surrounds the player every step of the way. This is your canvas. The game takes full advantage of this environment to bring its aesthetic narrative to light, and it’s all thanks to your scanner (read: brush). Surveying the nothingness with your scanner pokes luminous holes in the world Scanner Sombre initially leads you to believe is true. Slowly, but surely, the scanner reveals a colorful cacophony of insight without you having to worry about the arrangement. The composition of the piece is already there. All you have to do is to unveil it.
Distance is defined by the light spectrum (red dots are close to you, blue dots are farther away). Your scanner’s lasers stop upon impact, leaving a black void of a shadow behind objects to help establish depth. Depending on your level of interest in the story, this mechanic can be a marvelous time waster. As long as you can make out the path ahead of you to continue progressing through the game, you’re free to unearth the morbid fantasy at your leisure. Stippling your way through each environmental set piece rewards you with bits of inner monologue and tints the setting’s context with increasingly darker shades of gloom. It’s a captivating evolution, but that’s all there is to Scanner Sombre. If you’re not enthralled by the game’s atmospheric exploration within the first ten or twenty minutes, the overwhelming tension built through tonal shifts wane in the face of disinterest.
Spectral anomalies of sight and sound start to appear. Your scanner buzzes with enough unfamiliar static to put you on edge. Wretched screams bellow out from unknown depths. Manmade structures born from an (ostensibly) ill-intended devotion protrude from the darkness. Some specks of light shimmer upon discovery only to dissolve back into obscurity, and the revelation that this denotes water saturates a sense of trepidation instead of any hopeful comfort of “knowing.”
Instead of tending to those unconvinced by its offering, Scanner Sombre completely leans into what makes its presentation so effective. Various upgrades found throughout the cave bolster your ability to explore by enhancing the scanner’s capabilities. Even simply looking back every once in a while to admire the light sculptures made by (your) hand provides an unexpected satisfaction. Unfortunately, it gets rather tiresome holding down the left mouse button (Scanner Sombre can be completed in a three or four-hour sitting) to keep the scanner running and reading the world around you. Sure, you could stop scanning, but walking headfirst into the abyss is a daunting prospect. Scanner Sombre is aware of its potential to propel curiosity with its alluring light display; the further into the cavernous depths you go, the more beguiling the spectacle becomes.
Encased in a seemingly spacious, subterranean prism, your only option is to move forward (or wherever these underground trails take you). Colorful exhibitions of discovery act as a stark contrast to the cave’s unexplored depths, but the game does not afford much else other than a tinge of obligatory platforming elements. Scanner Sombre‘s surface-level visuals must be appreciated in order bypass its absence of interactivity; if you’re already enamored by its method of environmental excavation, it’s well worth a few hours of your time.
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