There’s something remarkably satisfying about exploring and unearthing the mysteries at the heart of Scars Above. The alien world you find yourself on is not only terrifying at times, it is also beautiful, and when you begin to unravel the secrets of its ancient civilisation, you feel compelled to help them against the monumental threat that lies at the heart of your adventure. There were times when I rolled my eyes at some of the cheesy dialogue, and the cutscenes aren’t as crisp and polished as bigger games, but when in the thick of it, there’s a satisfying gaming loop to enjoy.
A huge structure appears in the skies above Earth which has been dubbed ‘The Metahedron,’ You play as Kate Ward, a scientist who works for a team known as the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response team who go to investigate what the hell it’s doing. Of course, things go south and it tears them away from their home planet to an alien world untouched by humans. Kate is a likeable protagonist, and it helped to get on board with the story which is well thought out and gets more interesting as it unfolds. Although it’s not a particularly long game, Scars Above packs a lot into the time you have.
The planet you are taken to is filled with various biomes filled with creatures that want you dead. You’ll travel through snowstorms, jungles, marshlands, and caves, finding new creatures and lifeforms along the way. As a scientist, Kate is able to scan almost every important part of the flora and fauna, and each new discovery often has a purpose. It might provide ammo for her weapons, fiber to resupply gadget’s power and supplies, or a new entry in your journal. You can check your journal at any time to reread information about them, as well as listen to audio logs and entries regarding current missions and more.
Not only is the combat fuelled by a healthy selection of weapons and gadgets, but the creatures are smart and relentless, constantly throwing everything at you. Kate will end up with four main weapons to choose between with a simple click of the D-pad, and not only do they serve a purpose against enemies, but they can also effect the environment. For example, the Cryolauncher can freeze water and swamps so that you can cross them, but it can also freeze enemies in place so that you can take a few moments to hit their weak spot. One weapon can burn enemies and alien nests, and another can poison enemies and melt blockages so you can pass through. VERA – Kate’s main weapon – fires electrical bursts at aliens and is a vital tool in their downfall.
Gadgets range from launching decoys of you, to gravity bubbles that slow down enemies temporarily. You can activate armour, heal yourself, cure poison effects, cover areas in flammable liquid, and more. Every scenario you encounter requires a different approach, and you’ve got so much choice it makes encounters both thrilling and clever. You’ll encounter a wide range of enemies such as hordes of spiders, yeti-like creatures with flammable boils on their backs, gorilla-like enemies, swamp-dwelling creatures who spit poison at you, and various boss fights that consistently punish and challenge you. However, thanks to such a wealth of options, you’re always one step ahead. Every enemy has weak points, and if you know how to exploit them, there’s a likelihood they’ll die instantly.
There is an element of Dark Souls in Scars Above in the sense that instead of bonfires, you get Pillars. Whenever you die, you’ll respawn at the last pillar you reached, filling up your ammo, health, and power. Enemies will also respawn in previous areas, so there’s always that risk or reward throughout your entire playthrough. There’re some smart puzzles to solve, and AR riddles that require you to use your scientific brain to solve them, much like the detective sections in the Arkham series. I was always impressed by the level of detail in these conundrums, especially some of the layered puzzles that required you to think about how to approach them.
Scars Above is a clever and engaging third-person shooter that shares similarities with titles like Returnal and the Souls series, but it does more than enough to make it stand apart from them. It’s skill tree is straightforward, yet it can offer some vital skills and improvements that can change the course of your adventure, and if you want to redistribute how you spend skill points at any time, you’re always free to do so. The planet features some fantastic biomes designed beautifully, although some of the cutscenes are rusty, and the lip-syncing is pretty poor. Some of the dialogue is rough and detracts from the emotional core at its story, but I still found it kept me interested until the credits rolled.
Wide range of guns and gadgets
Puzzles are smart
Diverse and beautiful environments
Cutscenes are a little rough
Lip-syncing is poor
Dialogue is corny at times