A lot of games nowadays seem to be joining the Souls-like bandwagon, letting them blend into a sea of Souls clones despite not being outright replicas. Scars Above seeks to break this norm by borrowing a few elements that are prevalent. This is a difficult undertaking for any game, but the question is, can Scars Above still stand out?
All Alone in an Alien Zone
After a mysterious alien object, called the Metahedron, appears above the earth, the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response Team, or SCAR are dispatched to examine the object up close and figure out its purpose. This is where you pick up the story as Kate, the crew’s scientist. Upon scanning the Metahedron, your ship (along with the other crew members) is sucked inside the alien structure as Kate passes out. When Kate comes to, she is alone in an alien world.
As you trudge along to discover the fate of your shop and crew, Kate begins to have various visions of a weird entity and a holographic alien. The hologram seems to be a remnant from the aliens that used to be in control of this area, and for some reason, it now wants to help Kate out.
The plot of this mysterious figure in the sky that sled to this high-tech alien race’s erasure quickly becomes Kate’s main interest as well as the focus of the game. The crew then becomes relegated as a driving factor for working your way through this alien world and solving all of the problems that these aliens left behind.
However, it very quickly devolves into a “your princess is in another castle” deal with each instance of you finally managing to catch up to your crew leaving you empty-handed with the hologram or some other evidence telling you that they are just ahead and you need to keep going. Each time you arrive at a location where your crewmates should be, you either find a dead body or an abandoned camp with signs that the rest of the crew has moved on from that location.
Mix and Match
A big part of the combat in Scars Above is fighting with ranged combat in various ways. While you can always just shoot enemies until they are dead, you can shorten the fight by trying to combine various elements that your gun uses to create reactions or by using the environment to create the reaction.
Since you only have the electricity version of your gun to begin with, you are rather limited on available options. For the most part, you can bait enemies into the water and then shoot it with your weapon to create an AOE electrical attack that thankfully won’t damage you. Later on, you will have access to fire, ice, and corrosive elemental weapons attachments that can interact with the environment in different ways.
However, this is a point that Scars Above falls flat on. The environment interactions are only useful for one stage that you travel through and then never seem to come back as often as they could. You start out in a jungle where you can electrify and freeze the water to either hurt enemies or create platforms for yourself. Then you move onto an ice area where you can use the fire to melt ice lakes and instantly kill enemies by freezing them.
But the whole time you are in the ice area, you are not able to use any of the combinations that you learned about in the jungle. Then once you leave the ice area, you are never going to need to melt ice lakes again. If you could go back to these areas for some reason it would still be useful but you never really backtrack in the game; you are constantly moving forward into new areas.
Various One-Offs Don’t Make A Good Game
There is a running trend in Scars Above, where it will introduce mechanics that are interesting but never seems to come back to them. It has a lot of one-and-done moments that could have very well been repurposed later.
The weapon crafting system where you have to drag all the pieces together never comes back when it could have easily been used again — like when you get your other three elemental attachments for your gun. Many of the elemental interactions are linked to a single area and don’t see much use outside of that area. They just get replaced by a new interaction.
The only system that seems to return is the investigation events because in case you forgot, Kate is a scientist, not a fighter. These events can come in two different forms that are frustrating. One investigation form is where you are presented with an area and must piece together what happened by interacting with various points around a marked zone. These are not too challenging since the points you need to investigate tend to be obvious.
The other investigation event involves performing a deep scan of a machine or lifeform which is frustrating since you have no real direction on what points you need to hover over and interact with. This can lead to just slowly scanning your cursor over the entire scene until it happens to change color when you pass over the applicable items.
A Melting Pot of Mechanics
The final nail in the coffin for Scars Above is just how poorly everything seems to mesh together. The game borrows so many ideas from Souls-like games that work well on their own, but when combined with the original mechanics, they just fall flat.
Scars Above has a bonfire-esque system through the use of pillars. By interacting with a pillar, you set it as a respawn point, heal yourself, and restore some ammo. You can also come back to a previously used pillar at any point to heal and restock at the cost of respawning all the enemies you have killed. But the issue is that Scars Above is a linear game; you won’t find yourself ever backtracking to a pillar to heal. The only time you return to a pillar is when you open a shortcut back to a pillar you have already visited.
Scars Above also expects you to avoid using these pillars as respawn points considering that story progress is lost on death. So any cutscenes will need to be rewatched, however, upgrades that you grab will stay in your inventory. This can leave you in a loop of watching the same story cutscene over and over until you manage to finally reach the next pillar. Which makes the use of pillars instead of just regular checkpoints all the more confusing.
The leveling system in Scars Above is also something that is normally fine on its own but when combined with the other mechanics, it falls flat. It is less of a leveling system and more of a progression tracker. You can’t farm XP to increase your level before a fight. You only get XP by scanning a new enemy type for the first time or by grabbing little cubes in the open world. These cubes don’t respawn, though, so once you get all the XP out of an area you might as well move on. The idea of a leveling system just doesn’t benefit from a linear experience like this.
Tragically, these mechanics don’t blend well together, thus ruining the whole experience of Scars Above. While it has a solid foundation and the original idea works well, all the other mechanics grinding against one another make the experience unenjoyable.
This is what will unfortunately make Scars Above fall into the sea of various Souls-like games despite having a lot of stand-out features for itself. The core may be solid and fun, but no one wants to waste their time having to dig through all the problems that this game suffers.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
- This article was updated on March 2nd, 2023