Developer Mad Head has crafted something that mixes a bit of Returnal and Souls, and Remnant: From the Ashes. Last year, Prime Matter invited me to see a dozen projects the publishing arm was working on and one of the titles that stood out was Scars Above — a title that at the time, we had very little information about but the premise alone had me intrigued.
Scars Above never meet the great first impression it made
Playing at Dr. Kate Ward, a scientist employed by SCAR (Sentient Contact Assessment and Response) tasked with investigating The Metahedron, a massive alien structure above the Earth’s orbit. Upon approach, Kate and her team are involuntarily pulled into danger thanks to the existence of this alien monument, sending them to a strange, unknown planet.
Scars Above is a challenging sci-fi action game, with a balance of combat and exploration, that allows players to make smart choices and use believable weapons and technology to overcome terrifying monsters on a planet full of horrible nightmares but is also full of beauty.
Thankfully, the opening moments serve as a tutorial of several elements Scar Above will charge players with throughout the rest of the campaign. Kate is quick to pick up these mechanics you’ll use to progress and overcome all the challenges in front of you. Further, Kate’s role as a doctor will be a crucial element of her survival as she learns to craft not just weapons but gadgets and some items to help her map the immediate area, earning her knowledge.
The opening hours set a precedent that the rest of Scars Above simply isn’t able to bring to fruition. While it’s clear that the developers paid attention to detail, they seemingly forgot to address the repetitiveness of it all. There are instances of greatness when exploring and scanning environments. In around seven hours I was rolling credits and despite the biomes, it never really evolved into something bigger than I was initially expecting.
During exploration, you’ll discover certain weapons, such as a machete, allowing you to cut through obstacles. You also have access to the Vera, a gun that shoots electric charges, and a Thermic Charger, to burn enemies. The same weapons are also used as tools to maneuver the planet. With the electric charge, you’ll open doors. And with the Thermic Charger, you’ll burn down webs. The elemental attacks of the weapons can also be used to create conductors. For example, if several enemies are in the water. A simple shot on the biggest one will hit all the other enemies touching the water.
Given that Kate was sent to learn about the Metahedron, it makes sense you’d be scanning the various wildlife and plant life. Many objects can be analyzed including plants, monsters, and even objects from the missing SCAR team.
I say Scar Above reminds me of Souls games because there are alien cubes spread across the planet that serve as checkpoints. Kate also will discover Knowledge Cubes, earning her additional ability points to be used on one of two skill trees. The first skill tree is dedicated to Xenobiology while the second skill tree focuses on Engineering.
After spending more time with the skill trees and figuring out how to best approach them, it becomes painfully obvious that only a handful of skills are worth investing in. I say this as I spent the majority of my upgrades working to improve my load management, a skill used for improved stamina, and better battery life for gadgets. You’ll also raise your constitution for more healthy so it’s essentially the best way to survive some of the challenges ahead.
Did I mention that when you die you’re brought back to the most recent checkpoint with any defeated enemies being reset? Sure, it sounds familiar and it is, but the system works and helps keep the idea of a strange and unknown planet more immersive this way.
While there are some issues I have with Scars Above, it lacks polish but I’m curious enough to push forward. There are several biomes you’ll encounter throughout your journey with some of the offering their own challenges and puzzles. In fact, the first few times you enter a new area to discover that yes, you’re required to interact with the environment to survive it works, but then it devolved into annoyance.
Survival of the fittest
Combat for the most part is what you expect from a third-person shooter. Kate quickly adapts to her surroundings and interacts with the alien technology she discovers. Once you begin to unlock new weapons, you’ll also find elemental ammo, a crucial element to surviving and something that makes quick work of most enemy types.
Whether that means electric bullets or ice balls, even a corrosive spread shot, the elements all work differently to bring down the madness. Many of the elements can be chained together in the heat of battle, allowing for some entertaining setpieces.
Kate’s also got a penchant for gadgets (she’s a scientist after all) which help her ensure her safety. You can craft a gravity grenade which will slow enemies down, or a shield, or even a way to slow down time to move out of harm’s way. These gadgets make combat a bit more fun but the fact is you’re probably overpowered once you hit the midway point, leaving you to blast through enemies like nothing.
While there is so much potential in Scars Above, it never seems to materialize. Some of the mechanics are fun and there’s a decent amount of variety between the biomes and enemies but that’s not enough to keep the repetition at bay.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5