Title – Scars Above
Platforms – PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC
Release Date – February 28th, 2023
Developer – Mad Head Games
Publisher – Prime Matter
MSRP – $39.99
ESRB – T for Teen
Disclaimer – This product is being reviewed on the PlayStation 5. A review copy was provided by Prime Matter for the purpose of this review. This review may also contain spoilers for certain gameplay and story elements. Watch at your own risk, you have been warned. Gaming Instincts is an Amazon Affiliate and does gain financial benefits if you choose to purchase this product on this page.
Scars Above is a 3rd person-action title from a brand new studio that goes by the name of Mad Head Games. It’s a game that combines several elements such as horror, exploration, and puzzle-solving with some Dark Souls influence. The game even reminds me of Mass Effect for a variety of reasons that I’ll discuss later. So, how does Scars Above play exactly? What should you expect out of it? Is it a game worthy of the $39.99 price tag? Let’s find out. Welcome to our review of Scars Above.
The Bland Sci-Fi World
First and foremost, let’s talk about the universe of Scars Above. You play as Kate Ward, a scientist and a researcher who is a member of the SCAR (Sentient Contact Assessment and Response) team. The game starts off on your crew ship, where you explore a couple of rooms, interact with some objects for lore purposes, and meet your crewmates. Not too long after that, things go south when the ship comes in contact with a massive alien structure by the name of Metahedron. Shortly after that, the ship crashes and lands on an alien planet with everyone scattered around. This is where Kate Ward wakes up and your sci-fi adventure begins.
Kate herself is a likable character for the most part. She is voiced by Erin Yvette who’s mostly famous for her roles in high-profile titles such as Horizon Forbidden West, Genshin Impact, Spider-man Miles Morales, and even Fortnite. However, the character animations can look a bit wonky at times and her face looks a tad awkward. You won’t find state-of-the-art or world-class character models in Scars Above. It is a title that’s priced at $39.99 so you won’t really find super high-quality production values. However, I have seen much worse, even for higher-budget titles.
As for the environments themselves, I was hoping for something a bit more interesting despite the game’s cheaper price tag. Throughout the entirety of the game, you’ll come across different biomes including the swamplands, snow, and even interior alien structures. The geometry is very basic, and so is the texture work. Yes, I am aware it is a cross-gen game, but the world looks so plain that it resembles an early-gen PS4 or Xbox One title. With PS4 and Xbox One already fading away, it’s disappointing how Scars Above looks and feels.
The game won’t blow your mind in terms of visual fidelity. However, I really liked its intricate story-telling and soundtrack. If you’ve played games like Mass Effect then you’ll fall in love with the ambient music. The voice acting is quite nice, so that’s a plus in my book. Another pleasant surprise was the game’s sci-fi horror elements. At first, it just seemed like an action game, but as you play through it, you’ll encounter a couple of cool jump scars and find yourself more in a horror atmosphere than you expected.
The game’s overall presentation is serviceable. I do not think it’s amazing by any means, but it’s not horrible either. I believe the majority of players will find the world interesting enough. However, at the same time, they would have wished it to be more expansive and more intriguing. Thankfully, the solid voice acting and the ambient music does make the experience more pleasurable than I originally expected despite the game’s lackluster visuals and wonky character animations and models.
The Action and Gameplay
Ok, time to get dirty and start talking about the gameplay you can expect from Scars Above. At first, I thought the game was going to play like Returnal where you crash land on a mysterious planet and have to figure stuff out. While the premise may be somewhat similar, the gameplay is absolutely nothing like Returnal. Instead, Scars Above is a lot slower and methodical, kind of like Dark Souls, but in a 3rd person shooter kind of way. The game describes itself as a challenging 3rd person shooter, but in reality, as you play through it and unlock new weapons and gadgets, the game becomes easier and easier despite the more challenging alien lifeforms thrown at you.
Basically, you explore the planet and find crafting parts for weapons and new gadgets that can improve your health capacity or grant you a new time-shift ability. You can use the time-shift to get behind an enemy, such as the weird-looking yeti, to find and fire at their weak spot. The weapons also have different elements such as fire, acid, shock, or ice. You can use the ice weapon to freeze enemies that are on the water and then Kate can easily shatter them. This will save her a ton of ammo and make fighting things that are normally very difficult completely trivial. It’s all about using the right weapon and the environment to your advantage. The best way to think of the combat system in Scars Above is essentially rock-paper-scissors-shoot.
Kate will also come across cubes of knowledge, which will grant a talent point if she found enough. You can use those talent points to spec into two different trees. By the end of the game, if you’ve been good at exploring every nook and cranny, then you can max out all of the talent points that exist. To be completely honest, considering the game is roughly 6-8 hours and probably less the 2nd play though, I do not think this talent system was the best use of the developer’s time. If it was a longer game, then maybe yes. I would have preferred if they focused more on the combat encounters themselves or spent more time making the world more intriguing.
The levels themselves are very linear. There is a little bit of exploration with an obvious story progressing route. The game also does have puzzles, but thankfully they are not too tough and easy to solve. I actually feel like there weren’t enough puzzles and the levels were way too linear in my opinion. But that might be because I’ve been spoiled by titles like Elden Ring where discovering new areas and bosses is king. I think the gameplay could have been a lot more exciting if the levels were a tad larger and more interesting to explore. With this being $39.99, I think the developers were a lot tighter and more limited with their budget, so they probably didn’t get to make the game as ambitious as they originally intended. That’s a shame because the universe had the potential to be far more interesting.
The monsters in the game are quite cool from a visual design standpoint. They are a mix of grotesque creatures that are mutated from human genes. You’ll fight against creepy-looking spiders, acid spitters that like to hide in the water, and big yeti things that look more comical than scary. As for the boss fights, they are nothing special. Without spoiling much, I’ll say that the first boss was the most interesting while the final boss is the polar opposite. Then there is another boss that took a bit to figure out, but after it became obvious on how to kill him, it was super easy.
Overall, the gameplay in Scars Above is nothing special, but I do commend the developers for trying to mix it up with a balance of puzzle-solving, exploring, and combat. But as I said previously, the super-linear level design hurts the game in the long run. The talent system seemed like a waste of time and the game gets easier rather than more difficult as you progress through. There is a good foundation here, but the balance is kind of off. However, I will say it was enjoyable enough and I was okay with finishing the game and seeing it all the way through.
Despite it having a few problems that I mentioned earlier throughout my playtime – Scars Above is still an enjoyable game. The story is what kept me going for the most part and I also liked exploring the alien world, but I wish there was more of it. I will admit, I am a big fan of Mass Effect, so the ambient synth type of music also kept me going through. I liked Kate Ward for the most part with the exception of her face that looked a bit derpy up close, but her voice acting and character still won me over. The combat wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t amazing either. The gadgets were fun to use, but the talent system just felt unnecessary and a waste of time as I’ve previously mentioned.
If you are okay with spending $39.99 for roughly a 6 to 8-hour sci-fi experience then I think Scars Above would be worth your time and money. However, if it was more than $39.99 then absolutely not, but thankfully that isn’t the case here. Scars Above is a decent game for its price point, but it isn’t your next big-budget sci-fi blockbuster. The game will be receiving a final verdict of 7.0 out of 10.