Scars Above is the newest game developed by Mad Head Studios. It is billed as a challenging sci-fi third-person action-adventure shooter. It is meant to blend the satisfaction of overcoming challenging difficulties with a compelling story. All of this is set in an unknown alien world. On the surface, it looks like a blend of Mass Effect and something like Dark Souls. Which makes for an interesting combination. Let’s find out if this game hit the mark.
After hitting go on one of three difficulty options – Rookie, Specialist, or Commander (more on these later) – the game introduces the main character Dr Kate Ward, alongside her fellow crew mates onboard their spaceship. This motley crew is the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response team. Or SCARS for short. Their mission? To make contact with a massive floating…thing that appeared above Earth a few months ago. This entity has been dubbed “The Metahedron”, and I love that classicly cheesy sci-fi name.
After a short story-based tutorial about making things and shooting things, contact is made. And then things go south, fast. Kate awakens on an alien planet, with only a shadowy hologram of a humanoid alien lifeform beckoning her on. It’s a fairly dramatic intro sequence that sets up a nice bit of mystery.
Visually, I think the game is a mixed bag. There are very few options to tweak the graphic settings with just a gamma correction slider to change. Thankfully this seems to be a very stable game anyway. There didn’t seem to be much slowdown, even when things on screen got busy and I didn’t notice any major pop-ins or visual glitches. Character models also look detailed enough but the animations during cutscenes come off as stilted and wooden. The voice acting is solid though, along with the writing. The overall environmental vistas are pretty epic though. Strange barren plateaus. Fog engulfed swamps. All very atmospheric and creepy. Creature designs are definitely the standout though. Grotesquely otherworldly beings crawl and slither towards Kate, each one more lethal than the next. And unfortunately, pretty much everything on this new planet seems to be unnaturally aggressive towards her.
Aim for the weak spot
Battling said lethal beasties is no walk in the park. Scars Above is a Souls-Lite game after all. The weapons, alongside the signature one, lovingly nicknamed VERA, can be customised with different elements. These elements help each combat scenario play out like a big puzzle. Wait until an enemy wanders into a patch of water, then shock them with the electricity effect. Or freeze enemies and then hit their weak spot for maximum damage. Stuff like that. Not every battle is super engaging, but when all the mechanics come together, the combat definitely has some high points. As time went on, I did feel like I became slightly overpowered, and I never seemed to run out of resources. Despite the various biomes that can be visited throughout the game, there always seemed to be enough identical plant life to harvest things from.
One memorable section had me blasting fire at weak points on an enemy to reveal their even bigger weak spot, this time vulnerable to shock. Meanwhile, I kept having to freeze the floor below me to stop flesh-eating worms from devouring me.
I did realise at some point that I could just run past some of the fights, especially as enemies don’t drop experience. Earning experience for new abilities mainly comes from exploring, so other than scanning a new enemy type once defeated I felt like there wasn’t much point.
An aspect of Scars Above I do like is the inclusion of a difficulty option. Judge me if you will but I just don’t have the time and patience to slog through a really difficult time. I know that Souls games are renowned for their difficulty but as I get older “Gitting Gud” just isn’t on my list of priorities any more. Having said that, the easiest difficulty is still probably harder than the average easy mode. But it’s still good that the game can be tailored slightly to your preferences. As previously mentioned, I did feel like it did get kinda easy as I became more powered up, so the ability to ratchet up that difficulty is a welcome one.
The story is a nice pulpy sci-fi one. Lots of techno-babble and mysterious alien artefacts galore. I’m quite the sucker for that kind of thing so I really enjoyed it. Dr Ward is likeable as a character also. She’s resourceful and level-headed. Despite being stranded alone in an alien world, she seems to be doing OK. There’s plenty of dialogue about the different enemies and other things in the game. And I think it’s pretty charming listening to her musing to herself after having scanned a newly discovered entity, or figuring out how to adapt these discoveries to her advantage. She is a highly trained individual with an acute scientific mind, so seeing that in action makes sense.
Scars Above has flaws, yes, but ones that can definitely be overlooked thanks to entertaining gameplay and enjoyable if slightly cliche story. It did seem to delete my save game completely after I finished the game though, which I didn’t really like. I assume that was intentional? Out of my one single playthrough of the game, I earned 43 out of the 46 trophies without really trying that hard so for someone who enjoys popping those trophies, this is a good game for that.
Overall, Scars Above is a competently made game, but it probably won’t be on anyone’s top 10 list for the year. If it is though, then more power to you. After having been very sorely disappointed with both Atomic Heart and Callisto Protocol this year being just OK is absolutely fine. I was compelled to play this game to the end out of enjoyment, rather than solely for the purpose of this review.
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Disclaimer: A code was provided for this game to aid in writing this review.