EVERY now and then I miss the days of just picking up and playing a game based on its cover or a teaser trailer. You know, just discovering something new and being blown away. Scars Above is a title I saw the teaser trailer for, I was intrigued and just left it at that. But did it blow me away?
Scars Above is described on its website as being “A challenging sci-ﬁ third-person action-adventure shooter combining the rewarding feel of overcoming difficulty with a compelling and intricate story, set in a mysterious alien world to explore.”
Welcome to the spaceship Hermes where you take control of Dr Kate Ward, one of four of the SCAR team, which stands for Sentient Contact Assessment and Response team.
After many years of asking the question ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ a giant pyramid-like structure entered the earth’s atmosphere, which mankind then named The Metahedron.
After Scars Above initial introduction to the shooting mechanics as well as its crafting system in which you are tasked and introduced to the VERA, an all-purpose scientific tool used to output electrical currents, you and the team all meet in the cockpit where you are briefed on this exploration mission with the captains speech sounding very much like the opening speech given from Mass Effect: Andromeda about exploring new worlds and being pioneers.
It is then that the scan of the Metahedron starts and all of a sudden you start having visions and all hell breaks loose.
After these visions, you suddenly awaken on a strange planet with all of your teammates missing and with an open field ahead of you, you start the search for them only to find an apparition of sorts guide you towards a huge alien structure and are warned of a dangerous entity that has taken over the lands. After a huge storm consumes your surrounding area you again, blackout to awaken again in a swamp-like area.
It is now that your electrical equipment starts to work and you pick up on a signal from the crew and start your search in this mysterious land. It’s not long until you locate a shelter of some kind that appears you have been set up by the captain. Covered in a strange growth you start to question how long they have been there as well as how long you were out of it.
Now you find a basic electric cutter as your only means of protection, but don’t stress, it’s not long until you find the VERA weapon you were introduced to at the start of the game. This is good because it’s not long until you are attacked by spider-like creatures which will surprise you by burrowing out of the grown and attacking you. These are the best dealt with by the electric cutter as they will swarm you, so swing away.
But what was probably the most surprising feature of Scars Above was how your weapons are impacted by the terrain and weather conditions of the lands. If it is raining or you are attacked by one of the many creatures found in water, it is best to use the electric ammo as this will hurt them more. As you explore the areas further you will find upgrades for the VERA, four in fact. A fire, ice and acid attachment which not only helps you against the many creatures you will encounter but also assist with solving puzzles and gaining access to new areas.
While the game does have a few standard puzzles, I wouldn’t say they are very hard. Although there was one of them that really hurt my brain as it was more trial and error then really knowing what it was I was doing. The majority of the thoughtful puzzles come in the form of gaining access keys or using power sources in the right areas to get where you need to go.
There are four main areas you will explore during your 15 or so hours in-game, they are a swamp, a lake, grassy plains and an alien structure. Each with a distinctive look and feel to the areas as well as multiple ways to defeat your enemies.
Littered across all of these areas of Scars Above are plenty of collectables such as knowledge cubes which are a form of experience, audio files left by your crew members, and elemental plants which are used for ammo and fibre. Fibre is used to craft healing stimulants and protect you against toxins. It is also used to create batteries to power shields and other power-based weapons or assistants you will create during your time in the game.
Gathering the knowledge cubes as well as scanning and killing fallen creatures will allow you to level up your Kate’s skills such as resistances and weapon enhancements there are two skill trees in total that can be filled by the conclusion of the sci-fi story of discovery. There are also areas where, you, as a scientist must scan interesting flora and devices found in the world which will assist you in enhancing your own tools.
When it comes down to facing off against the larger creatures in the world, most of them will be a standard affair of locating the weak spot and working out how you can use the tools at your disposal to hit the weak spots.
On many occasions, I found the first time you fight one of the larger enemies to be the hardest encounter and then the next time you meet them, it’s just rinsed and repeated. That’s not to say that there is not a good amount of creatures to fight off as depending on the environment they’re in it can mix things up.
The game’s save feature comes in the form of pillars that are scattered across the lands. These are very much made in vain of your Soulsborne style of save system where when you save, your health and resources are filled back to the maximum, but all creatures will then respawn. You won’t need to re-collect anything or activate previous shortcuts, the only gripe I had with these was that they were very few and far between. This does play into the game’s overall story which I won’t spoil for anyone as there are a few surprises and is actually really interesting.
The story of Scars Above is a really interesting sci-fi adventure with a gripping story of what has happened to the lands you have found yourself on and how to right the wrongs of the species that once inhabited these lands who were tricked by ‘The Custodian’ Learning of your crew mates fate and embarking on these unknown lands to me, has been by far the most surprising and enjoyable gaming experience for my 2023.
For lovers of single-player experiences, I would highly recommend giving Scars Above a go. It has a great story, and even if the ending didn’t quite nail the landing for me, the journey, voice acting and fantastic sci-fi soundtrack meant that I couldn’t put this game down as I wanted to know what could happen next. It also helped that this game gave me serious Returnal vibes.
Don’t look past this surprise of a game by Mad Head Games with their first title.