Scars Above Is a third-person sci-fi survival shooter developed by Mad Head Games with Prime Matter publishing. While this game is a departure from Mad Head’s usual games, Scars Above features an impressive world with an engaging story and plenty of action. Prime Matter enthusiasts can enjoy this game’s challenges while awaiting the upcoming System Shock remake.
Scars Above combines elements of a sci-fi survival shooter with a narrative that entices players to understand the full story. Out of the three available difficulty options, I chose medium which still presented a very challenging experience. All in all, fans of fantasy adventures and survival horrors will appreciate the depth and complexity this game offers.
Scars Above is available on the PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, X, and S, and Steam.
Setting and Story
With the arrival of a massive alien structure appearing in the sky, scientists of the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response team are sent to investigate. As they approach the structure – referred to as the Metahedron – the Hermes space shuttle and crew are transported to an unknown, hostile planet. Kate, a resourceful scientist, uses her engineering knowledge to craft the tools to complete her mission. Kate must locate her scattered team and find a way off the strange new world.
While searching for her team on this mysterious planet, Kate is met with a vision of a giant alien creature known as the Custodian. The natural inhabitants of the odd world created the Custodian as an AI tasked with uncovering The Code of Life. After experiments conducted on their wildlife proved unsuccessful, the Custodian shifted its research toward its creators, annihilating the entire population. Still unsatisfied, it began scanning the galaxy for other lifeforms to study, resulting in Earth being its next target.
Character movement and action are smooth, making exploration and battle enjoyable. Minus a few weird action commands, the method of crafting and using items is easy to comprehend, as with most survival games. Throughout her adventure, Kate encounters several of the Custodian’s constructs that range from grotesque, toxic arachnids to menacing, armored beasts. Kate surveys her surroundings to find several natural resources that she uses to create weapons and items specialized for overcoming each obstacle she faces.
Weapons In Scars Above
Scars Above sees a break from traditional firearms and introduces several scientific weapons, which makes sense given Kate’s expertise. The first weapon you make is the Electric Cutter, which quickly became one of my favorites. It’s useful for hacking down obstacles or slashing through hordes of arachnids when running low on ammo. The first firearm you get is VERA, a rifle that generates electricity that Kate created during the prologue to use as a tool on the ship.
Other weapons in Scars Above include the Chemical Atomizer – which is an acid-spraying shotgun – and the Thermic Charger, a flame rifle that is used for many of the larger beast encounters. One of the most frustrating aspects is the need to use weapons to traverse certain areas. The Cryo Launcher – an ice grenade launcher – is needed to cross watery areas, the Thermic Charger is needed to heat plants to relieve hypothermia, and the Chemical Atomizer is needed to pass doorways blocked by metal pipes. Variations of some weapons are obtainable as well, like VOLTA, a stronger variant of VERA, and Fire Ray, which is a concentrated flamethrower.
Kate crafts different gadgets that serve different purposes throughout the story of Scars Above, though all are limited by battery consumption. My personal favorite is the Gravity Trap, as it slows down enemies, allowing you to escape, heal, or reload. Others include the Protective Barrier, which protects Kate from attacks, and the Holo-Lure, which distracts enemies. Though useful, the method of selecting these could be simplified. One key opens the item wheel to select the required item, then another key uses the item. While this may not be an issue for some, I would prefer a one-key press to swap between gadgets so I could map it to a side button on my mouse.
These items will be your saving grace during all enemy encounters in Scars Above. With ammo caches, battery rechargers, and healing injections, consumables are a necessity to survive the constant conflict and are crafted with fiber that is found on the bizarre, new planet. Resistance boosters are also available to remove the negative effects caused by various aliens.
During gameplay, Kate gains access to a plethora of abilities that reside in three categories: Engineering, Xenobiology, and Personal Abilities. By exploring all facets of the environment, Kate finds knowledge cubes that allow her to unlock abilities in Engineering and Xenobiology. These categories range from improving weapon usage and item storage to strengthening Kate towards enemy attacks and effects. Personal Abilities naturally unlock along the way, which provides Kate with new ways to explore, such as resource location from the scanning ability and interpreting alien language through the comprehension ability.
Combat: Sci-fi Soulsborne Goodness
The combat system in Scars Above is something not typically found in a sci-fi survival shooter. It has a Soulslike combat structure, with a stamina meter that lowers as you roll around to dodge enemy attacks. Running also depletes stamina, and like in the Soulsborne days of old, Kate cannot jump. While I enjoy the Soulsborne games, Scars Above’s combat was still challenging. I would have liked the option to deflect attacks with the electric Cutter, which would have helped in several battles.
Alluvials are constructs that you fight in various forms and have armored bodies that resist basic attacks. They cover a small weak spot on their chest that can only be hit with certain weapons, and attack relentlessly while you move. The stamina limitation makes it difficult to create distance between enemies, which is where the Holo-lure and Gravity Trap come into play. They will allow you to distract or slow down enemies long enough to reposition. This type of combat complements the survival aspect while creating an engaging method of battle.
Without being too complex, combat in Scars Above is challenging enough to be incredibly rewarding after overcoming a tough enemy. Though gimmicky in some respects, understanding what to do is relatively simple. How to implement your plan is where the obstacle lies. It’s also worth noting that you cannot hip-fire your weapons. Left-clicking the mouse swings the Electric Cutter while holding the right click to aim causes the left click to fire ranged weapons. This was strange to me, as I prefer melee to be a separate key in shooting games. I quickly grew comfortable with the mechanic, however, which wasn’t a hindrance during combat.
Graphics and Sounds In Scars Above
The graphics in Scars Above are not cutting-edge, yet the game looks exceptional and compliments the sci-fi survival shooter. Character design could certainly use improvement, but the creature designs are intricate and creative. The environmental aesthetics are phenomenal, with detailed landscapes fused with constructs of alien technology. Many structures have vibrant illuminations and moving parts that flow delicately in the background, while the foliage movement is small. Environmental motion is minimal, allowing the game to render smoothly on lower-end GPUs with high settings.
The background sound is mostly limited to an eerie ambiance perfectly capturing the sci-fi survival genre. The volume level of the backtrack leads to a higher chance of hearing nearby enemies. Weapon and gadget sound effects are well-made, with each sound appropriately matching its action. Creatures are the highlight of Scars Above’s sounds, using their screeches to create a sense of danger during exploration.
Scars Above was reviewed on PC