It’s always depressing when a work with interesting ideas behind it ends up not fulfilling that potential. Not just because I have to play an uninteresting game, but also because the developers behind the title don’t get to realize their vision properly – and they usually only get one shot. For whatever reasons, Scars Above sadly falls into that category. The pitch is a sci-fi action adventure and third person shooter taking place on an alien world. As the scientist protagonist and part of the SCARS team, Kate Ward, you battle monsters and solve puzzles using your elemental gun while being guided by a strange alien apparition. Sounds awesome, right?
In practice, however, Scars Above doesn’t have anything particularly interesting or exceptional to it; it’s perfectly average. The gunplay is serviceable, the puzzles are incredibly easy – it’s not a good sign when halfway through the game you get an achievement saying you’ve solved all puzzles – and the story feels generic. You shoot some things for about 6 hours and then the credits roll.
The game controls like you’d expect a modern third person shooter to control; Move with the left stick, aim with L2, and shoot with R2. You can swap between your four gun modes (electric, fire, ice, and acid) with the D-Pad and melee by pressing R2 without aiming. A dodge roll with generous invincibility frames can be used with Circle, though it will consume some stamina. You also have several gadgets at your disposal, selected in a radial menu holding L1 and used with R1. These can use one of two resources, Resin or Battery, but both are very easy to come by along with ammo.
Scars Above is something of a combination of Resident Evil and Dark Souls, though with borrowed mechanics and ideas that either clash or don’t reach their potential. You do have limited resources you can carry, but you can resupply just about anywhere, any time and managing inventory slots for puzzles is a non-issue. Still, it could be somewhat interesting to manage all your items if there were a finite amount in the game, but then we come to the next major mechanic. Throughout the world, there are pillars that act as checkpoints. Interacting with one will refill Kate’s health, ammo, and battery as well as respawn all enemies and resources. So while the only resource the pillars don’t refill is resin, you’ll still be swimming in it the whole game.
This completely negates the light-survival elements the game had as well, especially when it comes to combat. I was already fighting every enemy with no regard for ammo or health, but once I realized fighting them doesn’t really serve a purpose I started to just run past them, they’re just going to respawn anyway. The only thing enemies do is restrict you from interacting with objects you need to progress if nearby. So you can either kite them away or spend some time whittling down their health bars.
The enemies themselves are fairly tedious to encounter. There’s three main types you’ll encounter through the entire game, occasionally reskinned for new areas. These are spiders, easily dispatched with melee, worms, their poison will drain your health but go down in two headshots, and the brutes, who have a ton of health and take little damage when not hitting their weak point with the correct element. There are a few more types, like a speedy wolf, a regenerating big guy, and an abominable snowman (these aren’t their official names), but those three are what you’ll be encountering for most of the game. The first two are easy to take care of, but getting around to the weak spot on some of the bigger enemies can be a pain and destroying that won’t kill them either. Unless their weak point comes back you’ll be stuck waiting it out and doing chip damage for a bit. The enemies arbitrarily decide the pace of combat, not you. That can work if you have a response to what they can do, but you don’t here.
Visually Scars Above is nice to look at, at least sometimes. It’s clearly a budget title, but environments have some decent aesthetics if somewhat generic. There’s the swamp you start in, a rocky plains area, and of course the ice and flesh worlds. I think this may have been a horror title at some point, but it’s not scary in the slightest. I really like the character designs as well, they all just look like normal people. While Kate starts in a tank top and some space pants, she eventually finds a jacket and will take it off or put it on when the weather calls for it, which is a neat detail. The gear you have is also reflected on her person, with your gun always visible as well as a cute cat keychain if you find it.
Animations on the other hand are universally stiff and robotic. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does come off as uncanny. In particular, the pre-rendered cutscenes feature some of the worst animation which is super strange. Those also suffer from extremely noticeable stuttering and a low frame rate, usually causing the audio to desync. You’ll still get what’s going on (unless you’re not in fullscreen mode, otherwise they won’t play at all) but it’s not a good look.
Scars Above is unfortunately bland, with dull combat and very few puzzles. It has hints at interesting ideas and ambitions, but couldn’t execute on those.
- Decent visuals
- Great character designs
- Boring combat
- Few puzzles
- Pre-rendered cutscenes chug
- Clashing game mechanics