When a large alien structure dubbed The Metahedron appears above Earth, what other option does humanity have other than to investigate it?
It’s the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response team that have the pleasure of taking a closer look. Or SCARS, for short. And it’s this team that Scars Above centres around when things expectedly go awry. You’re in charge of a young astronaut called Kate, who’s also a scientist. That means when she finds herself alone on an alien planet, she’s intent on learning more about it rather than curling into a ball and crying. Go Kate.
Essentially a third-person shooter, Scars Above has some neat ideas, but unfortunately comes across as half-baked on the whole. As Kate, it’s up to you to explore the strange alien world you’ve seemingly been transported to, and find your missing crew. Along the way, you have a cutting weapon that’s best used to dispatch smaller foes such as spiders, but is pretty much useless against anything else. And so it’s your gun that can be quickly modded to fire one of multiple elemental projectiles that soon becomes your best friend.
Initially you’ll only be able to fire shocking bolts, but soon after you can launch fiery balls and icy grenades. Later in the game there’s more, including some additional variants for the elements you can already wield. They all come in particularly useful, not only for dispatching enemies, but also traversing the alien environment you’ve found yourself in. Electric bolts are great for shocking mechanisms into action, for example, opening locked doors, while icy grenades can freeze bodies of water, allowing you to safely navigate them even when they’re filled with nasty critters wishing to nibble on your flesh.
The third-person shooter action on offer here though is rather basic, mechanically. There’s little feel to the gunplay, and you can’t do things such as crouch or take cover to avoid enemy attacks. You can dodge, though, which is a must to avoid some enemy attacks. And there are also some gadgets you can make use of, such as a shield and a slo-mo bubble. it doesn’t help that enemies come in two basic varieties: those who rush you, and those who shoot at you from a distance. Scars Above is also very linear for the most part, leading you through claustrophobic corridors and the occasional clearing with only limited opportunities to go off the beaten path.
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You’ll want to when you can, though, as that’s how you develop Kate’s abilities over time. Instead of gaining experience by killing enemies, knowledge is instead accrued by scanning new flora and fauna as you come across it, as well as frequent data cubes that are ever-so-slightly hidden. As your knowledge increases, you’ll acquire skill points, which can then be spent across two skill trees in order to make your otherworldly exploits a bit more manageable. This is perhaps one of the systems that’s a little undercooked – it’s great listening to Kate as she scans and gleans more information about the world around her, but it’s a shame there’s not more of it. Most knowledge is gained via cubes, which by the end of the game are thrown at you with reckless abandon.
As ever, it’s the bosses here that are perhaps the real highlight. Many of them simply ask you to shoot their coloured blobs or appendages with the respective element, but one or two also require you to think outside the box a little. In any case, they’re generally gargantuan and fun to go up against despite the limited mechanics. It should be stated that enemy design on the whole is fairly strong in Scars Above. There are some truly freaky foes here, though admittedly some boring ones, too. It’s just a shame they’re not a little more interesting to combat for the most part.
While Scars Above is nothing special, it has a certain charm that made us want to see it through to its end. Its visuals aren’t very impressive, but it has a soundtrack that reminded us of Mass Effect at times, and the voice acting is commendable. More than anything, it just needed a bit more polish. Things like poor lip syncing will remind you that this is a budget game, while bugs such as crashes and getting stuck in scenery will frustrate. Especially so considering the game’s Dark Souls-style respawning system. Die, or leave the game for any reason, and you’ll be taken back to your last resting point with your enemies given life once again. They’re not always that frequent, either.
We somewhat enjoyed Scars Above, but we wanted to like it a lot more than we did. It has some interesting ideas and a solid story, but the gameplay unfortunately feels a tad too basic. And then there are the bugs. They might not be all that common, but when you do encounter them, they frustrate. Hopefully they’ll be quashed quickly after launch. In any case, pick up Scars Above, manage your expectations, and chances are you’ll have an enjoyable time with it overall. Just be aware that it’s more akin to a B-movie than a main feature.