Scars Above Review – Surface Level

Ice Gun

Scars Above on PS5

I started Scars Above expecting something similar to other third person-shooters that fancy themselves Souls-likes. However, the developer Mad Head Games hasn’t followed any usual formula, so the game is a different experience, even if not always for the better.

Scars Above begins with a group of astronauts called the SCAR (Scientific Contact Assessment and Response) team sent into orbit above Earth in the Hermes to investigate the Metahedron structure that appeared six months ago. There hasn’t been any contact with the alien structure, but investigating phenomenon like this is exactly why the SCAR team exists.

First contact with the Metahedron causes immediate failures throughout the Hermes, and the Metahedron starts pulling the crew in through a gravity well. Mission specialist Kate Ward blacks out and awakens alone on an unknown planet. For an inexplicable reason, This isn’t the Metahedron, as there’s another (or the same one) seen in the distance, but it’s definitely an alien world. The story is certainly the highlight of the game and offers a nice sci-fi tale. Surprisingly, there is even a nice explanation for why Kate is brought back after dying.

When starting out, Kate finds an Electric Cutter as the only melee weapon in Scars Above. It’s good there’s only a single melee weapon, though, as it’s a functionally useless mechanic in the game. The first enemy type thrown at you as part of the melee tutorial is the only one in the game that is weak enough to kill that way without too much risk. The melee weapon also works on breakable walls/barricades, but I found probably under 10 throughout the game.

ice gun
Image Source: Mad Head Games via Twinfinite

Instead, the main weapon throughout Scars Above is a gun. Technically, it’s all one gun, as every new attachment that adds an element type just slots onto the same base. In a nice change of pace, every element type works differently. Shock is just a normal rifle, fire requires charging shots, ice is a lobbed ball, and corrosive is a shotgun. The base shock and fire elements also get alternatives, but both are simple beams, which was somewhat disappointing.

Scars Above does have an XP system for improving Kate, but the way it works might be the thing I enjoyed least in the game. Unlike similar games, you don’t get XP per enemy killed. Instead, you get it from scanning the first enemy of each type you kill and by finding purple cubes in the environment. The cubes can only be collected once and give a percentage of the XP bar in an amount that always feels arbitrary.

Image Source: Mad Head Games via Twinfinite

These methods mean you can only progress and improve as the game allows, for every purple cube can only be collected once. This is a severe blow to any replayability in Scars Above, as you will only be able to reach the same spots on the skill tree at the same time every playthrough.

While the game does have branching paths to explore for XP or weapon upgrades, there’s still only ever a single way to get where you are going. This isn’t a massive problem by itself, but all of Scars Above feels like you are supposed to experience everything all in one go and then just never play it again. I was rather disheartened when I finished the game, and my playthrough save was instantly gone, with no option of reloading before the boss or anything.

The XP change also cancels out the trope of punishing deaths. In Scars Above, there is no penalty for dying because there can’t be. The game offers a finite amount of XP for players to find on their own, so lessening that amount would be completely unreasonable. Though, to the game’s credit, there is also more XP than is needed to fill out the whole skill tree by several levels.

Speaking of the skill tree, there are some good nodes to it, and the health and stamina increases are easy to get early on in the first tier. But, it becomes very apparent how many worthless skills are in the tree once you’ve grabbed the only ones that actually matter. For instance, there is a skill for getting HP back per enemy slain through melee.

The thing is, there also are regular stretches where you won’t encounter any enemies. I’m not saying I wanted the game lined wall to wall with fighting, but it was very noticeable at many points in the game as I made my way to the next checkpoint. It made for good tension at first to not know when or where the next enemy would appear, but after that, it just felt empty.

The Construct Boss
Image Source: Mad Head Games via Twinfinite

As might be expected, the bosses of the game were certainly the best parts of the game, though it felt like they ran out of ideas when the final boss is just a slightly remixed version of the first boss. Outside of that, the boss fights required switching between guns/elements to overcome the challenge presented and is regularly the only reason to use certain weaponry.

Scars Above offers a rather condensed third-person shooter adventure. While I was surprised at how quickly I breezed through the game, considering the other titles it was borrowing ideas from, it was still an interesting journey. I wouldn’t say there’s anything refreshing about the game, but there’s enough there for those wanting a jaunt through an alien world.

Scars Above Critic Review

Reviewer: Cameron Waldrop | Copy provided by Publisher.