Scars Above is a third-person shooter by Mad Head Games, in which you play as Kate, a scientist trapped on an alien planet after a mission gone wrong.
The gameplay is a mix of exploration and shooting — you walk around a mostly linear environment with some side paths looking for your objectives, and ferocious alien creatures attack as you enter new areas. Each time you save at a pillar or die, your ammo is refilled and all enemies respawn, but any objectives you completed remain complete.
Fights on Medium difficulty are tough, especially at the start of the game. You begin with a single weapon, while most enemies deal a lot of damage and take a lot of shots before they die. As you progress, you gain more elemental weapons that allow you to exploit the specific elemental weaknesses of each enemy type.
You have a stamina meter that’s consumed when you sprint or dodge roll, but exploiting elemental weak points is central to combat. While enemies are in water, they take extra damage from electricity and freeze more quickly. Other than that, your weapons are the main source of elemental damage. For example, there’s an enemy type that’s weak to fire, so you set it on fire, and while it turns away to put out the fire, you shoot the electric weak spot on its back.
This lends the combat a bit of variety but also makes the strategy quite rote. While some enemies can be dealt with in multiple ways, the majority of them have a superior way of dealing with them that involves less risk and less ammo.
By the middle of the game, fights against certain enemies feel repetitive. It’s hard to say that the combat is bad — it’s tense and difficult, and sometimes frustrating when you can’t work out the right elemental weakness — but despite the polish, it wasn’t particularly fun.
Exploration is crucial for upgrading your character. Experience is earned by defeating new enemy types or by finding purple cubes hidden around the environment, and minor weapon upgrades are hidden around too. This often means walking in every direction you don’t think is the way forward to make sure you have the maximum amount of experience, because the upgrades in your skill tree can make the game a lot easier.
Despite the upgrades, exploration isn’t exciting. The game maintains a sense of tension by having potentially deadly enemies appear out of nowhere and maintaining mysteries surrounding your crewmates’ bodily mutations, but the environments are quite same-y. There are a few different biomes and alien facilities that all look distinct, but you tend to spend a lot of time in the same drab biome with the same color scheme, and the environments lack points of interest.
The game’s story is mixed. The overall ideas presented are interesting, and there are some effective moments of sci-fi body horror. But a lot of the story misses any emotional punch by being vague and loosely written. Characters are stilted speaking to one another both in animation and writing, and dialogue doesn’t always progress naturally, especially regarding an alien character who Kate doesn’t seem curious about despite the mystery surrounding her. There’s dead air here where it would have been more interesting to develop characters and relationships, and instead the characters are fairly flat.
Scars Above isn’t a bad game, and if you like sci-fi and third-person shooters with exploration, it might be worth buying. But I found the game a mediocre experience, with nothing being particularly exciting or particularly boring.
Scars Above releases February 28 on PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series for $39.99.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Scars Above.