Scanner Sombre is a LIDAR exploration walking-simulator/experience from Introversion Software, the makers of Prison Architect, Darwinia and Uplink. It is a short experience about a man who descended deep into the cave in order to explore and satisfy his curiosity.
Sadly, the story, if you can all it that, is pretty barebones, delivered through would-be-audiolog text on the screen that’d otherwise be easily missed in the sea of colors. And while there is plenty of environmental elements that construct, I found myself much more interested in the way we got to explore the environment much more than the environment itself.
Still, the set-up is simple. You wake up in your tent, alone, and grab a VR Geological Scanner with which you will spend the rest of the game. It functioning is simple: aim your scanner, activate it and it scan the geometry, producing a visual map made out of dots that represent the area you are in. It’ll only mark the surface facing you, which produces an very cool shadow effect on what you see.
While the game is focusing on exploring and going through the caves, it is at its best. It provides you with some upgrades that help you better scan, ensuring that as the novelty wears off you don’t have to stop as much to obtain a satisfying picture. And, really, there are some places that are simply beautiful to look at.
As I played I just couldn’t stop thinking how gorgeous and interesting the mechanic was. I want to see other games that implement a system like this. For example, water is only visible as long as it’s being actively shined could very well be used for a stealth section, or even be made into its own hide-and-seek game.
Then, how satisfying it is to know that the map is a product of your very own scanning, turning lighter and more detailed the more you spent time capturing those details. In an odd, strange way, this would be a great way to implement maps in games, turning them into a slightly more involved but not quite boring afair where it matters what you see and experience.
I mean, look at this.
It truly was a shame that the game, through glitches and other gimmicks, it seemed to want me to not enjoy this exploration, sometimes even venturing too far into the realm of horror for my taste or even what works for the game. And, as for what it may have been trying to say… I can try, but it doesn’t do a good job at conveying its story, and of what I did catch, it was shallow, without much more to it.
Overall, Scanner Sombre is a very good experiment that I wish other developers learn from and implement in their own games, because damn it would be a shame if this is all it is ever done with it. And, of course, despite its failings, it is great to see developers willing to take a risk and make different games.