author: Giancarlo Saldana
Scars Above Review: Stars in Their Eyes
Inspired by many games you’ve probably played, Scars Above does its best to tell a unique story and stand out on top. Does it succeed or get lost in space?
Being stuck on an alien planet and figuring out a way home is a common theme in many space games and makes for a common catalyst that fuels your character’s actions. It’s how your approach the situation and what you do leading up to that end goal that makes the experience an adventure. Even if you add a Souls-like structure to the mix, the game can get a little more challenging but may still feel like it’s been done before.
- Thrilling story that expands as you play;
- Elemental combat combos are fun to pull off and master;
- Some impressive and exciting boss battles.
- Wooden animations;
- Predictable enemy attacks;
- Lack of difficulty and too much assistance at times.
Scars Above feels a lot like this, but it does have moments of enjoyment trickled throughout its very familiar structure inspired by games such as Returnal, Dark Souls, Metroid Prime and many others that will instantly come to mind as you play. It’s these references to past games, a fun combat system, and an intriguing story that will keep you playing despite it not being particularly remarkable in execution.
Scars Above’s story is rather predictable but soon grows into an intriguing narrative that not only gives it structure but also manages to incorporate why your character can respawn at various checkpoints whenever she dies. Yes, this game does have a Souls vibe to it, but it’s not as difficult as Elden Ring—far from it. It’s not a cakewalk, but it’s also not a game that will make you toss your controller and step back from it for a few hours. Scars Above is a lot more approachable if not repetitive at times.
You play as Dr. Kate Ward, a member of the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response team, or SCARs for short, who were on a mission to investigate a strange object called the Metahedron orbiting near Earth. As their ship approaches this weird structure, a wormhole suddenly sucks them in and they are transported to a strange alien world with dangers around every corner.
While some things work beautifully for the game considering its inspirations, Scars Above fails to catch up them due to its limitations in design and gameplay. It’s an ambitious game, for sure, and while its combat is fun and story strings you along, you will wish that it was more polished and more of a challenge.
Kate wakes up to discover she can communicate with the hologram of an Asari-like alien being who provides her with context and offers her assistance finding her friends and finding a way back home. What follows is a linear game that has you exploring various biomes of this planet including a rainy swamp, frigid mountain peaks, and the insides of many caverns that are home to various creatures eager to pick a fight with you.
Right away, you will notice Scars Above isn’t particularly attractive. Sure, the environments look pretty, and there are even some that remind you of distant worlds you’ve played in other games before, but the character designs, on the other hand, look decent at best. Kate has a vapid expression that make cutscenes looks awkward and because the voice track doesn’t sync with what you are seeing, the game sometimes feels like an old 90s computer game. Add to that some wooden animations (Kate literally looks stiff as she descends off a ledge,) and the game loses some of its charm.
Enemies, however, are a mixed bag as some do look amazing when you first fight them. There are these giant armored gorilla-like monsters that come at you at the start of the game. Your first fight against one of them even feels like a mini-boss battle, but they soon lose their wonder after your umpteenth fight. Not only that, but there are like five different variations of them you’ll fight each with the same animation and attack patterns as the original copy making them not so special anymore. Bosses, on the other hand—with the exception of the final one, sadly—are a joy to behold and even more so to fight.
You can save your progress and recover your health and resources at checkpoint pillars you find, but doing so resets all the enemies in the area like in a Souls game. This design choice at first feels threatening as the genre is known for being merciless endeavors that force you to play it smart or else die constantly to the same enemy. Scars Above, doesn’t feel particularly difficult, however, and feels more Souls-lite than anything else.
At first, you may die a few times, but after memorizing the predictable attack patterns of repetitive enemies and realizing how generous the game is at giving you ammo and resources with which to heal yourself, you’ll find it a lot more manageable if not a little too easy. Also, because it’s pretty linear, you don’t need to retrace your steps, and even when you come back to areas you previously visited later on, your old foes don’t respawn as you would expect making the trek too easy.
Combat in Scars Above is a lot like that in Metroid Prime mixed with the over the shoulder structure of older games like Resident Evil 4 (jump scares included). Kate is a scientist and not a fighter so of course her weapon of choice would be none other than a 3D printed tool called VERA and not an actual gun—and like Gordon Freeman, Kate depends on her engineering tools to keep her alive. In the beginning VERA can only shoot out an electric charge, but you will soon be able to upgrade it to shoot fire, ice, and even acid rounds at your foes. This elemental feature feels like it did in Metroid Prime where you need to swap out to different weapons to hit the weak spots of various enemies. Certain creatures have a red glowing spot on their chest indicating they are weak to fire, for example, whereas shooting a serpentine monster in the water with electricity will do more damage.
Not only is it fun to play with your various elemental shots, but the game encourages you to always do combos and to use the environment to your advantage. Swampy areas will take advantage of your electricity rounds so you may sometimes want to lure enemies closer to the water. On the other hand, fighting enemies in frigid regions means you’ll want to melt the ice they are in to make them fall in and freeze for a quick shattering blast to the head. Add to the fact that there is a hypothermia bar that slowly increases in these cold areas, and these moments become exhilarating and a true test of survival.
You don’t get experience for fighting enemies, but the game rewards you for finding various bits of “knowledge” spread across your environments that add up to ability points for upgrades to your health, reload speed, and other useful traits. The game is generous with this so even if at first you feel like you need to make crucial decisions on what to upgrade, you will have a surplus of points by the time you finish the game.
Kate also has various tools she can use during combat such as a shield, hologram to distract enemies, and even a time-stopping grenade that lets her reposition herself in a pinch. These are fun to utilize and give your encounters some variety. At first you will want to manage your resources so you don’t run out of healing during a battle, but halfway through the game you’ll gain so many upgrades that this fear goes out the window.
Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.
Scars Above looks like Returnal and sounds like Mass Effect as it tells you an unfolding story that continues to get bigger as you play on. By the time you reach its ending, however, and realize the game is over and it only lasted around 8 hours, you will feel like it didn’t have enough time to really shine. Its ending hints at more adventures for SCARs so it can only go up from here.
And that’s the thing. While some things work beautifully for the game considering its inspirations, Scars Above fails to catch up them due to its limitations in design and gameplay. It’s an ambitious game, for sure, and while its combat is fun and story strings you along, you will wish that it was more polished and more of a challenge.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com