Scars Above might look like a Returnal knockoff from the outside but it is actually far from it. Instead, the game tackles a more soulslike approach similar to Dark Souls and Elden Ring. You know the drill – the world is filled with monsters, and you can only heal a certain number of times and when you rest at a certain object to refill your health and save your game, everything respawns.
Scars Above is mostly the cookie-cutter soulslike experience but it does add some unique science mechanics and a research system into the game to sort of make it stand out. It is just a pity it will still be overshadowed by mostly everything in the same genre.
The game follows Dr Kate Ward who one day gets transported to an alien planet across the galaxy thanks to an artefact called the Metahedron. Dr Kate and her team, known as SCAR get separated across the planet and she now sets off to hunt them down.
Of course, as cliche sci-fi games go, the planet is inhabited by aliens, large environments, strange artefacts and the typical challenges one would face out there. The twist on the tale here, however, is that Kate’s team, and seemingly everything around her, has been pushed into the future meaning a few months, if not years have passed since she was teleported onto the planet.
What starts off as an engaging game with a rather interesting plot, sadly falls apart within a few hours of game time. I need to be clear, Scars Above isn’t very long. You’ll sit through the game in one weekend with about 7-9 hours of game time. It also costs R719 on PS5 which isn’t too bad either.
During these short hours, I trekked across various biomes which started to blend together. While Scars Above does pull off some rather stunning skyboxes and well-imagined locations, sadly the same cliche sci-fi assets start to repeat across each area and even enemies become a snore-fest. The game relies heavily on two main features – first is its elemental damage approach and the second is the idea that this world can be sort of “investigated” in new ways.
As Dr Kate explores the world, she discovers new tools that give her basic weapon new firing effects. I started with an electric shot and slowly gained ice and fire. There’s also acid which can be shot and thrown using different gadgets. Each element type, in a way, piggie backs off one another. Electricity, for example, can deal larger damage when enemies are wet. Either by cornering them in the water or shooting them while it is raining.
Ice can also freeze enemies which leaves them open to attack weak spots. Fire, of course, burns them. Combining acid and then fire deals some heavy damage to enemies too. With this in mind, Scars Above is basically a game where you’ll just shoot the same bunch of enemies over and over again using these various elemental combinations in order to get through each area.
Enemies start to get predictable and once I was caught off-guard by say an alien that leapt out of the water, I kind of prepared myself for the same copy-and-paste attack pattern over and over again. Some large boss fights are also just basic enemies scaled up in size to look scarier. There are also little spiders that always attack in hordes.
Much of Scars Above is about finding new elements or gadgets and predictably using them against that boss or enemy type for the next few hours because the game has been designed to specifically showcase that new damage type. While this is how most games work, this is sadly uninspired to a certain degree. The typical run around each location becomes a chore with the same copied puzzles in each area. I even became annoyed each time I had to hold down the X button to scan something. I get the emphasis on “scanning” but after hours of the same thing, it grows tiresome.
Don’t get me wrong, some fights get intense. Bosses throw curveballs which rely on mastering these elements. For example, one poisoned the water underneath my feet. I had to then freeze it in order to walk across safely during the fight. But these moments are far and few between. Fights can also be clunky as there is no lock-on mechanic. I also remember freezing an enemy only to accidently walk into its hand and take damage as if it wasn’t frozen and it attacked me. These things just make the combat feel unpolished.
I did enjoy some of the scientific and research aspects of Scars Above though. Dr Kate often stumbles upon an alien and she has to discover how exactly it works. This required me to scan different organs, veins and even bones across the creature. She also discusses how these organs work and is able to produce acid, ice liquid and so on. I found this interesting because it factored in the idea of this planet being a functional location instead of a bunch of aliens being around because they just are.
Scars Above sadly, doesn’t really hit any nail on its head. Everything it does feels like an “oh this again” moment because it copies its good traits across the game and barely adjusts them. Even puzzles became a chore. Every time I saw a gate I knew I had to go find the same objects to unlock it in order to progress through.
I think my biggest gripe with the game is its lack of reward. Instead of Dr Kate earning XP for fighting and defeating aliens, she only gains XP by collecting limited “research” blocks across the game. This means you’ll fight all the aliens possible, die on a boss or two and basically have no way to improve the character’s reload speed, health and other aspects because you didn’t mindlessly explore an area beforehand. For being a soulslike game, this feature was sorely missed.
I don’t think Scars Above is a bad game. In fact, I did enjoy my time with it. It also helps that the game isn’t very long so the painful parts don’t last too long. I just wish the team focused on what it did right and expanded that a bit more. Everything on offer here is a little too shallow. Enemy variety is lacking excitement, environments feel linear and dull, and even the best part of the game, its research system, slowly fades away into a “hold down X” mechanic.
Even with its cheaper asking price, I can’t recommend Scars Above entirely as it stands. Perhaps wait for a sale. But I do recommend playing it in the future if you have nothing else at all to play.
This Scars Above review is based on a code sent to us by Prime Matter. The game is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC. You can grab it starting at R649.
Story - 6.5/10
Gameplay - 6/10
Presentation - 6.5/10
Value - 7/10
Scars Above starts out strong but slowly turns into a copy-and-paste experience that lacks depth and excitement. Its best feature is its combat which also grows tiresome after a few hours.
Some locations look great
Combat is clunky
Exploration is uninspiring
The story is a miss