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Scars Above review
Prime Matter

Video Game Reviews

‘Scars Above’ review: An enjoyable and frightening romp through an alien world

Fans of third-person shooters won’t want to miss Scars Above.

Scars Above is a new third-person shooter out today from Mad Head Games. It checks off plenty of boxes in terms of what I love in a scary sci-fi shooter: a hostile world, gross monsters, great shooting, fun gadgets. While it may not bring anything new to the third-person shooter table, it’s very good at what it does bring and blends those elements together in a very well crafted game.

Scars Above starts off with engineer and scientist Kate Ward and her crewmates investigating ‘The Metahedron,’ a mysterious object floating nearby Earth. They get too close and suddenly the crew is flung across the stars and separated on an extrasolar planet. Kate wakes up alone and has to venture through a hostile alien environment in search of her crew and answers as to what the hell is going on.

'Scars Above' review: An enjoyable and frightening romp through an alien world

Kate’s journey begins.

It’s an interesting premise, but in the early part of the game the set-up just feels like an excuse to get players in front of monsters to shoot at. Scars Above’s story, and the development of its protagonist, really ramps up in the last quarter of the game. I felt myself engrossed in the plot as Kate ventured further across the world and learned more of how it came to be so desolate and dangerous. The final couple of hours are great and pack in a few surprises that deliver on the compelling and intricate narrative the game promised.

But the reason people will want to play Scars Above is for the gameplay, and it definitely delivers in that area. While the shooting mechanics are pretty standard for a third-person shooter, the mix of elemental ammo for Kate’s gun adds a nice variety to otherwise familiar gunplay. You can swap between electric, fire, freezing, and acid ammo to best counter enemies. The ammos complement each other well – freezing enemies makes them susceptible to electric ammo, for example. Incorporating the environment into gameplay is also a nice touch. Kate can destroy ice to drop enemies into freezing water or electrocute them in the rain.

When Kate isn’t shooting enemies, she’s crafting and wielding gadgets and consumables to give her an edge in fights. They start simple, like a personal shield and an antidote to erase negative status effects, and get more complicated – and powerful – as Scars Above goes along. By the end of the game I was freezing time to get a drop on enemies and then dowsing them in a highly flammable fuel to set them alight.

'Scars Above' review: An enjoyable and frightening romp through an alien world

I’m just gonna ‘nope’ right outta here, thank you very much.

Scars Above’s gameplay and character work both complement and contradict each other at times. I really liked how Kate doesn’t gain experience by killing every monster she comes across but rather gains “knowledge” from scanning enemies for the first time and crafting weapons and gadgets. She’s a scientist, so it makes sense that she levels up throughout the game by becoming more knowledgeable of this alien planet and its inhabitants. However, this clashes with her role as a video game protagonist in a game where the primary gameplay is shooting. By the end of the game, she can easily make mincemeat of every enemy standing in her way like any other highly powered shooter protagonist. This isn’t the biggest deal – the shooting gameplay is super fun, after all! – but I do wonder what a different version of the game would be like if it leaned more into using Kate’s mind to survive rather than her gun to kill.

I’m glad the mechanics of Scars Above remained fun throughout, because the game severely lacks enemy variety, making it flirt with becoming repetitive.  The enemies you fight in the very beginning will still be there at the end, this time with a new coat of paint and an electric weakness instead of a fire weakness. Plenty of fights throughout the game, especially its boss fights, essentially boil down to “shoot red bulb with fire ammo to deal massive damage.” The one time the game really does mix up its boss fight – against Chapter 3’s The Construct – it swings and misses. I found the fight against the giant robo-scorpion monster to be tedious and I even turned the difficulty down to just get the fight over with more quickly.

'Scars Above' review: An enjoyable and frightening romp through an alien world

Gross mouth-torso monster, but this time wearing an abominable snowman costume — and teeth!

There’s a darkness and dourness to Scars Above that I really enjoyed. The monsters are equal parts gross and terrifying; I definitely felt my heart rate jump when encountering some of the more grotesque monsters for the first time. The game starts off by throwing spiders at you (ick) then progresses to yeti-like monsters whose torsos open like a vertical mouth to release tendrils of fright at Kate. Hard pass. By the end of the game, Kate will even be fighting through corridors made entirely of organic tissue and membrane that would feel right at home in Dead Space or The Callisto Protocol. It’s gross, and it feels right at home with what Scars Above wants to be.

Scars Above is bleak and challenging, but I never felt hopeless while playing it. Instead, I was overcome with curiosity. I wanted to learn about this world and its monsters just as much as I wanted to shoot them in their ugly, ugly faces. Sure, it has some stumbles – the narrative and gameplay sometimes clash, and it needs more monsters – but I often found myself hooked on its gameplay loop and unable to put the controller down. What more would you want from a game?

Scars Above review
‘Scars Above’ review: An enjoyable and frightening romp through an alien world
Scars Above
Scars Above delivers solid gameplay and intense thrills in a fantastic sci-fi/horror package. It may not score high on the "inventiveness" scale, but it definitely earns high marks for being straight-up fun.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Very fun and well crafted gameplay loop.
Nice variety of weapon ammo, gadgets, and consumables.
Gross and terrifying monsters lurking underground and around corners.
Interesting and mysterious story that pays off in the end.
Lack of enemy variety adds a “sameness” to most combat encounters.
Boss fights could have been more unique and challenging.
8
Good

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