After it tasks you with shooting a reactor with an energy weapon you’ve just crafted, you just know something’s going to go wrong in Scars Above.
In truth, you’ll not actually be sure if it was your bold attempts to increase energy output that condemned you to an ordeal on an alien planet. In fact, you’re not even sure if you’re even on an alien planet to begin with – the last thing you remember is being in front of a giant alien structure which humanity has dubbed ‘The Metahedron’. Wherever you are, though, there’s one thing for certain: it’s alien to you. And so as you step into unknown, learning about your new environment is crucial.
The good news is that Kate, the protagonist of Scars Above, is a scientist. She’s young but she’s got a sensible head on her shoulders, and so whether it’s an intriguing plant or the corpse of a grotesque creature, she’s eager to take a closer look and analyse its properties. That’s good for you, because as they say, knowledge is power. Saying that, however, you still need tools to combat any hostile creatures you encounter.
Over the course of your investigation of your new surrounding, you’ll soon put together a varied arsenal. First you get a blade useful for cutting down obstructive vines and slicing at smaller enemies, then you get a rifle capable of shooting bolts of electricity, and after that a charged rifle that shoots balls of fire. There are more, too, and each weapon comes in particularly handy in one scenario or another. Those bolts of electricity can be used to power up certain doors, for example, while balls of fire quickly burn through fleshy walls.
What’s more important to your survival, however, is employing the correct weapon for the enemies you’re up against while also considering your surroundings. A giant ape-like creature’s weak point might be a red glowing spot that’s susceptible to fire, but if it’s raining it’s possibly more advantageous to make use of a cold weapon to freeze it before wailing on it with melee attacks. And if there are groups of enemies in water, your electric rifle can be used to zap them all at once.
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There’s a problem with the combat of Scars Above though: it’s crushingly mediocre. It perhaps wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it wasn’t for the fact that like many action adventure games these days, it takes inspiration from the likes of Dark Souls. And so, death comes quickly if you don’t keep your wits about you and avoid enemy attacks. But mechanically, Scars Above just doesn’t feel quite tight enough to pull it off. Hopefully it’s something that’s polished up before the game’s release in February.
Thankfully, outside of combat we’ve found quite a bit to like about Scars Above. Its story seems interesting, dropping hints that you haven’t been stranded in this alien world for no reason. And using the tools available to you to overcome obstacles is pretty neat, such as freezing bodies of water so you can safely walk on then. There are also some light puzzle elements that add a bit of flavour.
What’s particularly interesting though, is that to improve your skills, you need to educate yourself about the world around you rather than simply shoot anything that moves. From scanning new objects to hunting down informational cubes, further your knowledge enough and you’ll gain skill points, which can then be placed in a duo of trees to develop your character as you see fit. It’s just a shame the combat appears to be an all-too-frequent obstacle to all that.
Still, we’ve only played a small portion of what will be available when Scars Above fully launches next year, and there’s still time for some tweaking and balancing. We’ve got our eye on this one, then, and are looking forward to playing more. It might be worth you keeping it on your radar, too, especially if you enjoy a challenge. We just can’t help but feel that Scars Above would perhaps be a better game without its Soulslike aspirations.
Scars Above launches 28th February on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC.