Scars Above is an action adventure sci-fi title with some horror elements. This puts it at odds with the recent releases in The Callisto Protocol and the Dead Space remake which have both come out in the past few months.
It has an uphill battle when it comes to competing with them, given that Scars Above is also a smaller budget experience compared to those blockbuster titles. So even with these setbacks, how does it stack up? Find out in our review below!
Developer: Mad Head Games
Publisher: Prime Matter
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC (reviewed)
Release Date: February 28, 2023
Scars Above begins with a short prologue right before everything goes horribly wrong. Here we don’t actually learn much of the quirks and personalities of the crewmates outside of protagonist Kate, and even with her all we get is that she’s both smart as a scientist and capable of handling firearms.
After playing through the entire story, it makes sense we don’t learn anything of the cast because they hardly play a role at all once Kate finds herself on a hostile planet. This new world is teeming with dozens of alien life forms ready to maim her.
Instead, Scars Above is much more plot focused as the secrets of the strange world and structure which brought our heroes here in the first place are uncovered. Most details important to understanding the world come in the forms of either audio logs scattered throughout the adventure and the companion alien hologram who guides Kate.
Without getting into deep details on the story itself, much of it is rather standard sci-fi fare with emphasis put on concepts like experimentation and the so-called “code of life.” There’s nothing about it that is revolutionary, but it’s serviceable and gets the job done in lending reason to getting us from point A to B.
During these sections as we go from point A to B there are sequences of combat, exploration, and occasional puzzle solving. Much of it is spent moving along the alien world itself, where there is good variety in the different biomes even in this rather short game.
Each biome in Scars Above also comes with different aspects players will need to pay attention to in order to both survive and combat the various wild aliens ready to kill. From waters infested with carnivorous worms to freezing temperatures, there are plenty of things that will bring a quick end to Kate’s life.
Fortunately, these unique biomes also allow the multiple weapons you find and create during your journey to have their niches. The ice gun can freeze the water’s surface, allowing for safe traversal while flaming shots on certain plants can create a fire to warm her body and prevent hypothermia.
These aspects keep an engaging focus on paying attention to your environment to use the best weapon for the job and this extends to fighting the enemies as well. This wasn’t done creatively though, with most of them having obvious giant glowing spots indicating both their weak spot and which element is strong against them.
This design on the monsters make them seem created as if in a parody of game design, despite Scars Above’s serious tone. They stick out poorly on otherwise well designed creatures and also have the lazy effort of creating similar monsters that only have different colored spots.
Yet despite this, fights in Scars Above remain engaging, especially during the middle sections of the game. Players will have to stay on their toes to quickly utilize each weapon’s strengths. Combos can also be had, where using one weapon’s element can set up another to do some massive damage.
My main problem is that too rarely is the environment used in conjunction to combat. During the sequences in the ice regions, there’s a wonderful mix of fighting off enemies while also paying attention to Kate’s condition in regards to hypothermia.
There were even bits thrown in this section where the environment itself could be used to handle foes. Shooting ice on frozen lakes can break the ice surface, sending foes to die in the chilly waters. Then in caves, there were giant ice stalactites which could be shot down, slamming onto enemy’s heads.
This was a moment where paying attention and using your mind to win a fight instead of brute strength shone through for a game basing its premise on playing as a scientist, not a soldier. Yet sadly the other biomes failed to capture this experience.
Another shame is that even though the biomes were distinct from each other both in aesthetics and mechanics, there weren’t many at all. In fact, much of the second half of the game has players going back to previously explored areas, repeating things already seen before except with more tools.
It was fun trying out the different gadgets picked up along the way. There’s one which slows times in a certain area or even stop time as a whole so that Kate can move to a better position to fight. I only wish there were more situations for us to actually use them.
So Scars Above is a competent experience, albeit a very short one as well. It only took me roughly 7 hours of play to beat the game, and this also meant nearly 100% completing it as well. I’m only missing one achievement that takes just a little bit of time to obtain when you know how to get it.
It may not hold the same visual detail and fidelity as it’s competitors, but the world is well designed and setting interesting enough to keep anyone’s attention. And while the story is nothing special, it’s also not terrible enough either to make for a hinderance.
All in all, Scars Above is good for what it is. While it doesn’t top out other recent AAA launches, it’s also not a AAA launch in the first place, so it comes with a lower price tag to match what it offers.
However, it’s also absurdly short for what it is and replay value is lacking. Scars Above is more for those looking for something new and aren’t particularly looking for the next game of the year.
Scars Above was reviewed on PC using a copy provided by Prime Matter. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Scars Above is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.