Scarf is Tied-Up With Moral Choices, But Left Me Cold

By Laura Kate Dale on at

Kotaku UK is spending the whole week this week reporting to you live from Cologne, Germany, on the show floor at Gamescom. There's a lot of games on show, both big and small, original and derivative, expected and just plain weird.

Scarf is a wordless narrative platformer, where you play as a humanoid creature wearing a long scarf, which gives you the power to do really big jumps and create bridges to traverse the game's world. So at first glance, Scarf is going to remind you a lot of Journey. Some of the visual trappings are a little different but the similarities to thatgamecompany's indie hit are hard to ignore: you're a white ghost child with an emo JRPG protagonist hair style, and a transforming scarf...

In the game you basically run around the world, absorbing scarf trees, and putting that material into scarf platforms to make them solid. There are paintings on walls to look at and try to glean story from, and I occasionally came across other scarf children to interact with, but there didn't seem to be much else going on in the world.

This Gamescom demo was hands-off, and one thing was repeatedly emphasised by the developers that will apparently set Scarf apart: the scarf is sentient, and has its own moral goals. The problem is that you can say this but, when pushed for an explanation of how this manifests in the game, the examples given were confusing and lacked detail, a pity given this may be the most interesting aspect.

The developers of Scarf did talk to me about how moral choices would work in the game, and how the scarf would make it hard to make the 'right' choices. I was told that these ghosts are meant to ride a scarf stairway to the afterlife, but the protagonist is fighting to avoid that, and the scarf trying to play the saboteur. It all sounds like a good setup, but there was no evidence of this in the game itself.

Towards the end of the demo, I played hide-and-seek with a small ghost child, after which I was told the player had to consume the ghost child if they wanted to proceed in the game. I asked if this was one of the moral choice moments the developers had been speaking about, but it wasn't. The player has to walk over to the ghost child, at which point the scarf sucks the child up and consumes them, and you don't have any say in the matter. The idea of the scarf having agency didn't seem to crop up, and the one part of the demo that seemed an obvious setup for player choice instead locks you in.

I became a little concerned over the distinction between what I was told Scarf is trying to do, and what I saw. The game clearly wants players to feel conflicted about certain actions, but I just ended up confused about what is or is not a choice, and how the core gimmick works at all. Scarf is a good-looking game for sure, and it may yet surprise players. But the emphasis on moral choices feels misplaced, and this presentation left me with more questions than answers.