Scars Above Review

VERA-fiably fun

By Paul Hunter

After playing and enjoying Prime Matter's sci-fi third-person shooter Dolmen last year, I just knew I had to check out their latest game in the same genre: Scars Above. Both titles also feature soulslike elements, including game worlds that reset whenever you touch a save point and intentionally stiff challenges. Even more reason for me to check out what Prime Matter's latest game has to offer.

Scars Above is from the minds over at Mad Head Games and is an ambitious sci-fi adventure that tries to emulate the 80's alien invasion theme that swept Hollywood with all the mystery and intrigue that goes along with it. It follows the story of scientist Kate Ward, a crew member of the Hermes spaceship and member of the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response (SCAR) team. The group's mission is to interact with an unknown alien structure known as the Metahedron. But, of course, once they get close to this mysterious object things go sour quick, taking a dark and terrifying turn.

Let's put on our SCARs jacket to learn more about what this intriguing action game has to offer, here are three things I like about it...and one I didn't.

Liked: Elemental-Based Gunplay

From the get-go, it's important to note that Scars Above is a AA title with a AA budget, so you won't want to go into this sci-fi experience with Mass Effect-level expectations. But if you enjoyed games like Evil West or Hellblade, this title could be what you're looking for.

Gameplay-wise, yes there's a tad bit of jank, but it's quite functional. Dodging enemy attacks feels crisp and your main VERA gun, which can be loaded with different elemental firepower, has ample kick. You'll begin with an electrical rail gun and eventually acquire modifications that let you unleash fire, cryogenic and acid blasts.

Enemies, as you can likely imagine, tend to be weak against certain elements and strong against others. You'll know which gun to whip out based on the colour of enemy 'sore spots' that, for example, glow red indicating they're weak against fire. Each gun also affects enemies in specific ways, like fire and acid melting enemy health over time, while your cryo-gun freezes enemies stiff.

Your guns aren't just for combat either, as you'll need to use them for some puzzles scattered around the mysterious alien world you find yourself in. Sometimes this means shooting power nodes with your electric gun to power them up or firing off cryogenic balls to freeze a land and allow you to safely cross over. The puzzles are generally simple enough to solve without much thinking, but it was still neat to have your guns used for more than just blasting the aggressive creatures out to get you.

Liked: Story, Characters and Lore

The story in Scars Above mostly follows the tried-and-try sci-fi arc we've become accustomed to, but it's surprisingly well-developed with interesting characters and twists along the way. Playing as Kate Ward, the adventure kicks off with your ship crash landing on a strange alien world where fog blankets a murky swamp and ominous geometric shape float in the sky far beyond you. After rummaging through your battered ship for supplies you'll emerge into the alien world and quickly discover how hostile it is. It's a perplexing and punishing world that really sells its alien world experience.

The game's six chapters (plus Prologue) contain lots of cinematics that do an adequate job, so long as you don't mind the voice acting not syncing with the characters' mouths. The scenes feature detailed alien landscapes, consisting of organic and futuristic environments, and are a definite plus that adds immersion. The central mystery of why you're in this alien world and what's happening around you unravels at a good pace with no narrative lulls over the game's 10- to 12-hour length.

Liked: Metroidvania Level Design

Once you get into the heart of the game, there's a distinct Metroidvania vibe as certain areas are gated off until you acquire the right gun or tool to let you progress. Often times getting the new weapon you need requires you to come face-to-face with tough bosses whom you'll need to apply all that you've learned up to that point in order to defeat. For example, one of the bigger bosses is virtually impervious to your attacks, until you realize you can melt the ice below them and have them get stuck in the ice water below.

To further sell the Metroid vibe, Kate can scan organic matter, including defeat foes, and other objects in the environments. This not only gives you intel on how to defeat enemies and adds more layers to the game's lore, but it also rewards you with XP that can be used to unlock helpful abilities. For the most part, the abilities offer nice perks like increasing your max stamina and health or giving you a 20% chance not to consume an item upon use. The enemies get harder as the game progresses, but the ability unlocks can help sway the advantage back to your side.

Didn't Like: Limited Replayability

Given how much Scars Above leans into the soulslike genre, it's baffling that the game has no new game plus option or other modes to tackle after you've completed the main game. It seems ripe for NG+ as I can imagine how much fun I'd have starting a fresh save with all weapons and skills unlocked. Throw in harder enemies and I easily see myself going on another 10+ hour run. Unfortunately, as it is though, once you've completed the game there are no strong reasons to fire the game back up.

The Verdict

Scars Above really embraces its sci-fi and soulslike themes, offering an atmospheric game with a good balance between exploration, puzzle-solving and battles. It's a bit janky but palatable when you consider the game comes at a budget price. If you're looking for something different than the mainstream cooker cutter offering, Scars Above is worth the time and effort.

Final Score: 7.5/10 - Good

Scars Above details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Mad Head Games
Publisher: Prime Matter, Plaion
Genre: Third-person Shooter, Soulslike
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

A key was provided by the publisher.