Scars Above Review

Scars Above is a bit of a throwback to the glory days of AA gaming (and a much better example than recent review Wanted: Dead). On the one hand, we’ve got some decent presentation and some well rounded mechanics to play with; on the other, a few hamstrung ideas that don’t quite serve the purpose we’d imagine they were there for. These didn’t stop us enjoying our time with it, but it falls just short of that next step.

We play as scientist Kate as she her a small crew of SCARS investigate the Metahedron, a huge object that appeared in space above Earth one day. After a short set up scene, their ship approaches the Metahedron only to be seemingly transported to an alien planet. Kate awakes to find her crew missing, and must set out to find the who/what/why/where of her situation.

It’s not the most technically impressive title, but Scars Above does well with what it’s got to present us some grand views

While we’re unlikely to be watching HBO’s Scars Above anytime soon, the story told here is done so effectively, with some passable acting and writing throughout. Lead Kate does a good job of keeping us informed via her thoughts as well as commenting on new discoveries made, and while it’s fairly predictable developers Mad Head Games throw in a few small curve balls here and there to keep us guessing.

What really won me over though was the gameplay. Played on the default difficulty (the second of three options) initially things are quite tough. There’s an element (though it really is only and element) of the Souls style here; we’ve a stamina meter that only lets us melee or dodge roll two or three times before tiring, saving progress at checkpoints refills our health and ammo but also respawns all enemies, and the flow of combat is much more measured than an out and out action game.

Crucially though, this is nowhere near as punishing as those titles. Granted, early on we died a few times, but we never felt that crushing weight of being repeatedly beaten down over and over.

Part of this is thanks to a focus on gunplay rather than melee. As we mentioned, early on we died a lot, though this is mainly down to how weak Kate’s melee is. Once we’re giving out first offensive weapon things become much better.

Combining electricity and water can have some devastating effects, but other combos are equally as viable

Throughout Scars Above we’re given four weapon types to use that boil down to Electricity, Fire, Poison, and Ice. Part of what we enjoyed about this quadruplet is how they interact with each other and the environment. An enemy currently standing in water (or frozen with Ice) will take bonus damage when hit with electricity, while combining the Fire and Acid attacks can offer explosive results. It’s not much more complicated than that, but it also doesn’t need to be. Enemies all have weak points that these different elements counter, though we have a few other tricks up our sleeve.

Gadgets allow us to turn the tide even more in our favour. From a simple shield, through pools of flammable liquid or bubbles of time dilation and more, these prove useful for those tougher baddies that might otherwise get the best of us. We can also refill our health, battery meter (used as a resource for gadgets), and ammo using Fiber. This resource can be found throughout the world and can be consumed at anytime.

Between all of this, there’s a nice feel to combat that kept us entertained from start to finish. Boss battles are where we’ll need these the most, but even the occasional big bad that pops up surprisingly will take a good use of abilities to beat.

While they rely on glowing weak points pretty much entirely, these encounters are still an enjoyable challenge

But here’s an example of where things feel underdeveloped. The last power we gain in the ability to stop time for all enemies, letting us run around the back ready for a surprise attack – however, whenever I used this the enemies instantly snapped back to face me as soon it ran out, making it feel redundant – especially when the throwable slow down bubbles do a much better job of making this a viable tactic.

Elsewhere, the crafting system is somewhat mis-named. In reality, it’s simply a way to present upgrades as we find them. There is no harvesting resources to make things we need outside of the Fiber use above. Mainly, we find an upgrade for a weapon, and the portable crafting table pops up forcing us to hold a button to apply the upgrade – and then we’re off again. Likewise with things like health pick-ups in chests. It’s presented as though we’re picking up an item to use later when in reality, they’re consumed there and then. These are far from experience-ruining aspects, but it feels as though they could have been utilised that bit more.

The final nit-pick is in the upgrades we can apply to Kate directly. She has a decent sized tree of abilities to unlock via XP gained from scanning enemies and picking up XP orbs. However, I’d maxed this out before the final chapter without really trying too hard and ended the game with about 9 points left over that I was unable to use. Again, it feels as thought there was one more thing to be added but it just never materialised.

Conclusion

Don’t let these slight downers put you off playing however. While it a few tweaks could have seen it reach the next level, what we get within Scars Above is a fun, challenging adventure that we could quite happily have seen stretch on for a few more hours above our 11 hour playtime. The use of various offensive elements that can be combined is great, while the gadgets generally are good to use as well. Wrapped up in a world that feels vast without actually being too big, this is a solid title for those looking for a little challenge over the course of a few evenings.

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This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.

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Good
  • Interplay between elemental guns is great
  • Nice world design and building
  • Right level of challenge
Bad
  • A few ideas feel slightly wanting in terms of finishing touches
8
Great
Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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