Scars Above – “Raiding Tombs in Space”

Scars Above is a third-person shooter set in the not-too-distant future. It borrows elements from various games, including Tomb Raider 2013, Mass Effect series, Returnal and Dark souls. The game is Developed by Mad Head Games, which I need to become more familiar with, but after looking them up, it is clear that they love adventure-style games. Upon starting Scars Above, we are greeted with an impressive-looking cutscene. An unknown Alien vessel stations itself just outside of earth’s orbit. Humanity has questions that they want answering. So they assemble a specialist team known as the SCAR team (Sentient Contact Assessment and Response) to investigate and determine what the vessel is and if it is friendly. The player controls Kate Ward, a mission specialist and astrobiologist with a background in engineering. Kate and her fellow crew members are all very close and have worked together for some time. After an awe-inspiring speech from the Captain, I was ready to go! He commands their spacecraft to approach the alien vessel. The alien vessel responds, and the crew and their spacecraft are transported to an unknown alien world. 

We regain control of Kate, who had visions as they were transported. She awakens alone on this mysterious planet without recollection of what happened. Her main goal is to find her fellow crew members. The game’s controls are your typical third-person shooter, similar to ‘Soulsbourne’ games and the recent PS5 and Steam title Returnal. You have an aim. However, there is no target lock which I found very intriguing and makes your close combat melee difficult. As with most of my third-person shooters, I have my aim assist turned off. I like a challenge. I tried all aim assist options; they work well and let you balance the difficulty which best suits the player. Scars Above is all about exploration. How you interact with items and investigate specific scenarios reminds me of the Batman Arkham series and Mass Effect. Kate has to inspect an item and perform a particular task, like rotating and pressing a secret button or attaching a new gun part to her gun. This feature impressed me and to me made the game feel unique. There are also unique gadgets to use like shields and items that remove environmental damage like toxicity.

This mysterious planet has aggressive and unfriendly creatures, and Kates’s best friend is her weapon. Her weapon is a gun she crafted back on her spacecraft. The gun can use elemental-type firepower like electricity, Fire, Ice, slow etc. This makes for an exciting concept. Each creature has weaknesses, and you must exploit them to beat them. Weather and the planet’s surroundings play an important role in combat. For example, electric firepower deals extra damage and spreads around in rainy and wetter conditions. It also can damage you. The Ice firepower freezes enemies and makes it safe to cross over dangerous waters by creating an ice path. The incendiary firepower sets the creatures on fire dealing damage over time. It also burns away thick webbed structures that are blocking your way. Melee combat is your last resort in this game, as in the current state of the game I was playing (review copy), Kate’s knife is useless. With no target lock, you swing away blindly until your stamina runs out, and then you cannot dodge roll; at this point, you are done for. I found myself never using melee combat, but it isn’t necessary to progress.

Now on to graphics. This is where it was hit-and-miss for me. The visuals were impressive in the beginning cutscene and on board the spacecraft. However, once you awaken on the planet, I would not have disagreed if you had told me I was playing this on a Playstation4 and not a Playstation5. The textures looked outdated and bare, and so did the backgrounds. When cutscenes occurred, they cut away, taking you out of the game, and they didn’t seem to sit well and looked out of place. There was not a time I was blown away by the spectacles considering this is meant to be the next generation. The best way I can explain this would be by comparing Scars Above to playing Horizon zero dawn or God of war after playing their sequels. I did also encounter several glitches regarding pop-ups from drawn distances.

The sound in this game was good, especially the voice acting. I mentioned the Captain’s speech earlier in the review and was blown away. I felt like I was a part of the crew and felt all their emotion. There is a slight ambience when traversing the planet, but nothing stands out. Creature sounds I did like. They each had unique noises, which helped you identify what you were fighting when your back was turned. I did play via the PS5 Headset and also through normal Television sounds.

The story of Scars above is where this game truly shines. It gave me the feelings I felt when I first played the original Mass Effect. The sense of exploration and investigating what has happened to your crew and the planet had me invested from the start. Each boss battle had a story I love in my games, but I won’t spoil anything here. Another thing I will add is, for once in a long time, in a game, I felt lost. There is no map, so remembering your paths and back to your spawn points is vital. Like all the familiar Dark Soul’s games, these spawn points act as bonfires. When you die, you spawn at these pillars that replenish your ammo and health, but unlike the aforementioned Dark Soul’s there is not much loss from dying, only progression. As you explore you collect purple like spheres that give you ability experience. Gain enough and you can choose a new ability to unlock.

I thoroughly enjoyed playing as Kate and unravelling this game’s mysteries. The boss battles were epic, and you had to learn a specific strategy to defeat them. I had a few problems with the controller where I would aim my weapon, and it would fire automatically without pressing the fire button. Usually, it would be fine, but ammo is sometimes scarce in this game, and specific firepower isn’t adequate, so every ammo counts. I had a few times where the game crashed, but it didn’t result in anything game-breaking, so I expect a few patches on release day.