A new sci-fi third person shooter has recently arrived, called Scars Above. Scars Above was revealed last year as a third person shooter mixing soulslike elements with an engaging story. This description immediately makes me think of Remnant: From The Ashes, which has always received high praise. Will Scars Above scratch that same itch? You can read about it in our Scars Above review.
The game starts in orbit of earth. Out of nowhere, an alien object has approached earth. The object is called the Metahedron. So far, no one has been able to get into contact with it. A team of scientists called S.C.A.R.S., or Scars, are sent on a spaceship to inspect the object. You play as one of these scientists, called Kate. After a short prologue, you’ll suddenly find yourself alone on the Metahedron. This is where your journey starts, to find your colleagues and figure out what is happening here.
Exploring the unknown
It won’t be long before you meet some of the residents of the Metahedron. The tone the story tries to set is dark and atmospheric with some light horror elements. While it sometimes succeeds, it ultimately unravels as more of a third person shooter action adventure. Most of the story gets told through collectibles such as audio logs. There isn’t much interaction with other characters, but this is due to the nature of the story. Without spoiling anything, while the story seemed pretty thin at first, I did enjoy its climax.
Scars Above at its core is a third person shooter which puts emphasis on challenging combat. While it’s not a true soulslike, it does have some soulslite elements. Early on in the game, you get your first weapon and get introduced to the game’s mechanics. Dodging and avoiding attacks is crucial. Early on in the game, you’ll die after just a few hits in true soulslike fashion. While discovering, you’ll come across “Pillars”. These are basically checkpoints, because once you die you’ll respawn here. You can also activate them, replenishing your health and ammo. But here’s the trick, when you die or activate them, all enemies respawn.
Fallen Order with guns
The core gameplay loop very much reminded me of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s gameplay with guns. Which is a big compliment, considering I find that one of the top games of recent years. While following the story, you’ll go from pillar to pillar and it always feels like a relief early on to find your next pillar. Because pretty soon, you’ll meet tough enemies which require you to exploit their weak spots. Doing damage on anything besides their weak spots will take you a while to kill them.
These weak points are often easily visible with glowing indicators. Enemies also sometimes have icons above their heads, showing a weakness to a specific element. This is a huge aspect in the game, because there are multiple weapons to acquire during your playthrough, belonging to one of four elements. Your starting weapon is based on electricity, you’ll get a fire based weapon, a grenade launcher that can freeze your enemies and more. As more of the weapons get unlocked, enemies get more complex too.
Think first, shoot later
Every enemy in the game has their own strategy to take down. In order to progress, you’ll need to learn their attack patterns to avoid damage. Additionally, you’ll need to find a way to expose their weak points. Sometimes this only happens in very short windows, forcing you to think quickly. Unfortunately, when you progress far enough in the game, weapons get upgraded in such powerful ways, a lot of the strategy can be thrown out of the window because your weapons tear down enemies so quickly there’s little challenge left.
This is partly due to gadgets. If you sidetrack enough in the nooks and crannies, you’ll find various gadgets. Gadgets can range from a temporary shield you can activate to absorb some hits to a grenade that slows down your opponents. Combining the right gadgets later in the game, means you won’t have to rely on dodges and timing anymore and can simply get behind your targets. They seem a little overpowered.
Along your path, you’ll often find crafting components and collectibles. At first I got excited because the game has crafting. However it wasn’t as exciting as it seemed. Crafting revolves around simply pressing X when you find a specific component to upgrade your weapons. And the other components you find, are just meant to craft ammo.
Something which Scars Above does really well however, is utilizing the various elements in combat. The four elemental weapons aren’t just copies from each other. Besides needing different weapon elements for different enemies, all weapons have their own feel. You’ll have a rail gun type of weapon, a slugger, a shotgun and so on. What’s more, some weapons can be upgraded with multiple firing modes, opening up more gameplay options.
Use the environment to your advantage
If this is not enough in combat, there’s also various environmental features you can use to increase your damage. When enemies are in the water, electrocuting them increases the damage and damages nearby enemies. If enemies are on top of a frozen lake, you can use your flame weapon to break the ice below them. This is a great strategy against stronger enemies. Or break icicles from the ceiling. Or explode the local fauna when they pass. It increases your options in combat and is sometimes necessary in some fights.
There are also multiple boss fights in the game. Ranging from what feel like mini-bosses to proper boss fights. The developers have done a great job at designing the boss fights. It’s never about raw damage, but always about finding the right weaknesses or utilizing the environment. They sometimes feel like a proper puzzle. However, as with regular enemies, near the end of the game my character was so overpowered, even the final boss fight felt like a breeze.
Exploring pays off
Empowering your character, Kate, isn’t just about gadgets and weapons though. She has two ability trees in which you can unlock various abilities. These cost ability points. The higher up in the tree, the more powerful the abilities. And it’ll cost you more points to unlock them. Ability points can be obtained from experience. Experience is not gained through simply killing. You’ll find various cubes scattered around the game world, some along your path, some out of your way. These offer you experience. Scanning new enemies also gives you experience.
As you can imagine, exploring is therefore encouraged. The game even features Metroidvania mechanics. Your elemental weapons all offer you a way of unlocking various paths. However, sadly, this is very much underused. Most of the game is very linear, with small side paths to explore for various collectibles and cubes. I feel this is something that should have been explored a lot more, using Metroidvania mechanics. The potential was definitely there. It isn’t until the end-game that they finally have you explore previous areas and opening paths using your new abilities and weapons.
Scars Above isn’t just about fighting though. On your journey, it’s all about uncovering the mystery of what happened to your crew and what is up with the Metahedron. To strengthen the idea of Kate being a scientist, you’ll often stumble upon places where something mysterious happened. In order to find out what transpired, you’ll have to reconstruct the scene and investigate. It reminds me a lot of the Batman Arkham series.
While following through the story, you’ll come across a lot of different environments. I have to say, they are absolutely stunning. The background is riddled with details and the landscape is made with care. While stumbling upon grassy plains, you’re immersed in the grass which sweeps along in the direction you’re walking. It truly makes you feel like anything could pop up out of nowhere. This further immerses you into the mystery.
Technically however, the game is not so great. Within my first 5 minutes, I experienced a crash which was not a great start. However, admittedly this will probably be fixed in a hotfix. However, the animations seem a little choppy. The lip sync animations in particular were terrible. At times I felt like I was watching a dubbed anime. It did not stop me from enjoying the game however.
After completing Scars Above, I was mostly left with a feeling that this game could have been so great. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the game. As I said earlier, it feels like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order gameplay with guns. It has an interesting story and fun combat mechanics. However, often I felt the game was just scratching the surface. Using its Metroidvania mechanics, exploration could have been so great. Making your character overpowered near the end of the game also removed some of the challenge.
I really hope at some point, a sequel comes and they do expand on these mechanics. Because Scars Above could’ve been a great game, instead of an okay game. That being said, I did enjoy the game. If you get a chance to try it, be sure to do so. Maybe wait for a sale though. That was it for our Scars Above review.
- Stunning environment
- Fun combat mechanics
- Metroidvania mechanics are underused
- Mediocre animations
- Combat becomes too easy near the end
Scars Above was supposed to come to GeForce Now on release. It didn’t show up but will surely release soon.