This review was made possible by the good folks at Prime Matter and Mad Head Games and I'm usually grateful for the opportunity to review and cover games like Scars Above. I didn't know how to start this off as I feel this was the most "middle of the road" game I've played in a while. Scars Above certainly holds its own and it's most definitely not a bad game. It has a story and a premise that the player can piece together like a puzzle, yet one that I couldn't wait to reach its conclusion. Taking a page from media like Aliens, Scars Above appears to be a survival third person shooter at first glance, using valuable resources as the surviving unit of your space team known as SCAR.
No relation to S.T.A.R.S., of course, SCAR is an elite unit meant to go against alien threats, consisting of three members and a fourth, which is the leader. The first five minutes of the game feature the crew as well as a brief backstory to Kate, the protagonist. Kate is a scientist but has above-average physical capabilities to ensure her role as an astronaut. Accompanying her is VERA, a weapon that has a quirky name yet functions as a rifle would.
While I am unsure when the "space lady and smart weapon with a quirky acronym" combo became a popular trope, this one, unfortunately, does not speak. Instead, VERA has access to several different firing modes, each serving a different purpose as well as a level of effectiveness against enemies. In the beginning, VERA fires electric bolts that are used to aim at far-away switches. When Kate crash lands on to a foreign planet and is separated from her crew members at Hermes, she must use her wits to survive against everything that wants her dead or their next meal. One of the first enemies Kate will fight are these creepy crawlers that are easily dispatched with a melee attack. The next group of enemies are these mutant tentacle monsters that spit acid, meaning long-range combat is the preferred method.
Here's where the troubles begin for Scars Above and that's with its controls. By default, R2 and RT is Kate's melee attack, a modest swipe of her blade that's also used to chop away at vines. When Kate reunites with VERA, most players would be forgiven to press R2/RT in an attempt to fire the rifle only to find themselves using their melee attack. Kate does not fire from the hip, something that a melee-shooter hybrid was able to manage. This means that players need to take practice pressing L2/Lt to aim before pressing R2/RT to fire. I felt as if there were certain buttons that could have been remapped to accommodate a melee attack button rather than binding it to the same key. Eventually, I got used to it, but not without dying to silly nuances.
Eventually, there will be monsters and hazards that are color-coded, signaling a weak spot. This ape-like golem has an exposed core that's an amber color. The closest color that matches is the fire ammo for VERA and hitting the enemy with the right attack will deal critical damage. For the tougher enemies in Scars Above, this is what it ultimately falls down to. Aim at the enemy's weak spot, shoot enough times to deal massive damage, dodge roll attacks, and repeat. Some bosses will incorporate previous mechanics from other situations, sort of like a "have you been paying attention?" moment. Chapter 1's boss summons these blood-sucking worms that will damage Kate if she doesn't freeze the water. The player figures this out as a way to go across rivers of these worms, serving as foreshadowing.
There are several checkpoints scattered throughout the zones and activating them will replenish Kate's health, ammo, and resources, although enemies will respawn. Before I say the S-Word, there's nothing "Soulslike" about Scars Above except for how the checkpoint mimics the "bonfire function." That's because anytime Kate dies, she doesn't lose any experience. There is no shop or place to trade items in Scars Above. Everything the player unlocks is through earning it by taking down tough enemies and when the plot demands it. Instead, Kate gains experience by identifying new monsters for the first time, collecting knowledge cubes, and identifying structures in the environment.
Because this is the only way for Kate to gain enough experience to level up with an ability point, it's almost not worth it to fight respawned enemies. The major problem is that the enemies will chase you across the map and attracting more enemies will do more harm than good. If there was a major problem I had with Scars Above, is that it made killing respawning monsters a non-requirement after Kate scans them for the first time.
If there is no incentive to defeat enemies, what's stopping the player from doing all they can to avoid combat? Thankfully, Scars Above's combat is fun enough in that it behaves like a puzzle. Enemies in water conduct electricity while using ice bullets will freeze them faster. Causing chain reactions as well as using the environment to your advantage is some of the most fun I've had with this game.
Overall, the story was the main thing that kept me invested in Scars Above's journey. The change in scenery and the environments ranging from the jungle depths to snowy mountains were also dynamic. This is by far one of the prettiest games I've played in a while and if the player gets the chance to stop and observe the environment, it's very screenshot and wallpaper worthy. I wanted to see more of what this mysteriously beautiful yet horrific planet had to offer.
I wanted to know who was "The Custodian," as well as Kate and her crew's fate. It was a science-fiction survival thriller with an emphasis on puzzle combat more than "run and gun." Scars Above was a game that had a steady pace from beginning to end and while the gameplay remained largely safe, I felt invested enough to keep me entertained until the very end.
Scars Above is available on the PC, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.