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Scars Above review: towards the stars… but not without some bumps

Venture with us into the darkest meanders of the cosmos, in this review of the brand new Scars Above

Announced for the first time about two years ago, during a special event by Koch Media, the latest effort by the guys from Mad Head Games immediately piqued the curiosity of fans of the sci-fi genre. Presenting itself as an action adventure, with RPG elements, able to test the players’ skills, Scars Above is finally available for PC and current and past generation consoles, and, after having tried it thoroughly by hand, we are ready to give you our opinion on it, in this dedicated review.

A mysterious object in the skies

Before getting into the heart of this review, as always, it seems appropriate to start with a few hints at the context in which the plot told in Scars Above develops. In the game we will take on the role of doctor Kate Ward, who will take part in an expedition to reveal the mysteries of the “Metahedron”, an alien object of unknown nature, which appeared near the Earth’s orbit. After a first brief incipit in which we will get to know, among other things, the other crew members, for some mysterious events we will wake up alone on an alien planet. How did we end up there? What happened to the others? These are some of the questions to which we will have to seek an answer as we gradually reveal the narrative canvas drawn up by the development team.

Apart from a not exactly memorable characterization (in general we were unable to empathize as we would have liked with the protagonists, nor did we feel the slightest thrill for the villain of the moment) and some fluctuations in the narrative rhythm, the plot flows away pleasantly, managing in some moments to whet our curiosity. In fact, even without reaching who knows what narrative heights, the lore is one of the most successful aspects of the entire production, thanks mainly to the good worldbuilding work done by the developers in outlining a universe that refers to the cornerstones of cosmic horror and space Opera.

Scars Above review: towards the stars... but not without some bumps

Facts you weren’t living like brutes… – Scars Above Review

As also mentioned in the introduction of this review, Scars Above is a third-person action adventure developed with the specific intention of offering a consistent rate of challenge. Shortly after waking up on the alien planet we will begin to familiarize ourselves with some of the basic mechanics of the game. The action will take place in the third person and although we will always have a sort of futuristic machete at hand for melee attacks, the weapon we will use most will be our trusty rifle. This can be loaded with different types of ammunition, to cause damage of various kinds, such as lightning or fire.

After the very first bars of the game it is immediately clear how the intent of the developers was to push the player to use the right weapon at the right time. In fact, some combos (so named by the game itself) make life much easier, especially in the face of hordes of fierce alien monstrosities, and, instead of shooting blindly, it is always better to think to make the most of your resources. We will also come into possession of a large variety of gadgets that will come in handy both in battle and in solving sporadic environmental puzzles. Even during the fights with the bosses it is perceived how the development team has made an effort to create diversified situations, in which it is necessary to learn the enemy attack patterns and exploit the right strategy to bring home the skin.

On paper all this is undoubtedly interesting, but in practice not everything seemed successful as it should. First of all, the feeling of the weapons is not the best, and, also thanks to a general woodiness of the movements, aiming or dodging enemy attacks will not be easy at all. Whatever the difficulty level selected, then, the monsters will have no mercy and will attack you without much compliments, also inflicting annoying malus such as intoxication and poisoning. The final sensation we experienced is unfortunately that of a gameplay that needed some more refinement and that too often struggles to generate the sense of satisfaction necessary to counterbalance the level of challenge offered by the game, risking dangerously falling short in some situations in frustration, even on the lowest difficulty.

Scars Above review: towards the stars... but not without some bumps

… but to follow virtue and knowledge – Scars Above Review

We now come to the RPG component of Scars Above, which we mentioned earlier in this review. Basically it translates into two not too articulated skill trees, with various upgrades to unlock. To obtain them, you will need to spend Knowledge, which can be obtained in various ways, such as scanning new enemies or simply finding the Cubes of Knowledge scattered around the world. Fortunately, despite the obvious nod to the soulslike genre, the death and rebirth of our protagonist (which the developers have also decided to contextualize at a narrative level) will not lead to the loss of the acquired Knowledge. This makes the title a little less punitive, also because, as already mentioned, even on the lowest difficulties you could often die, especially if you are not used to the genre.

The development team also wanted to implement a sort of bland crafting component. In fact, by obtaining specific resources we could unlock additional upgrades such as secondary fire mode for weapons. However, it will not be necessary to go to a specific point to make these changes, because as soon as we get them the creation screen will appear in front of us and it will be sufficient to hold down a key to fill a bar and automatically create the upgrade. Perhaps the original idea was to actually include a crafting system, but for some reason this feature was eventually extremely streamlined.

Scars Above review: towards the stars... but not without some bumps

The Power of Science – Scars Above Review

As we have already said in this review, Scars Above is a title that wants to push you to think. This is also evident in the large amount of puzzles you will come across as you explore the game world. Some of them will force you to get your hands on alien technologies, while in other situations we will be called to reconstruct events that previously occurred by analyzing our surroundings. Without particularly shining, we must admit that these puzzles were a pleasant diversion from the fights against alien monstrosities.

Scattered around the world there will then be a sort of mysterious monoliths. These, once unlocked, will roughly take the place of the famous bonfires present in the Dark Souls series (of which you will find our review of the third chapter of the series here): touching one of them will restore your life and your ammunition, but will also revive all previously defeated enemies (excluding bosses of course). Even dying will make you reborn at the last monolith encountered, but, contrary to what is usually seen in soulslikes, it will not be necessary to be at one of them to acquire upgrades or anything else. Consequently their function will be to constitute simple, yet useful, checkpoints for your adventure.

Scars Above review: towards the stars... but not without some bumps

Lovecraft, is that you? – Scars Above Review

We have already mentioned in the incipit of this review how the developers have fished with both hands from the cosmic horror genre to build the Scars Above lore. This is evident above all in the appreciable design of many of the environments and creatures we will encounter. Too bad for the not exactly huge variety of the latter, which from a certain point of the adventure onwards tend to repeat themselves with sometimes only a few small variations.

The real weak point unfortunately lies in the technical sector, and in particular in the animations. As soon as we take control of our protagonist it will be impossible not to notice some stiff and rather unnatural animations of the latter. The same goes for the creatures we will meet, whose often mechanical movements will not only be not very nice to see but in some sporadic cases (a clash with a boss in particular) they have also given us some more difficulty in understanding how to manage our attacks. The situation does not even improve in most of the cutscenes, with almost non-existent facial expressions of the characters, which negatively affect the pathos of some scenes.

Scars Above review: towards the stars... but not without some bumps

To the stars… but not without rough edges

The latest effort by Mad Head Games is therefore a title full of ideas that are perhaps not exactly innovative, but objectively interesting. The commendable ambition of the developers in wanting to pack a varied and diversified product, however, collides with a gameplay that is too often woody, consequently failing to properly support the gimmicks designed by the team. Added to this is also a graphic sector made up of good ideas in terms of the design of settings and enemies, but accompanied by animations that are a little too rigid and overall subdued. A pity, also because the plot told by the title is also interesting on several occasions, but the general feeling is that of a good idea, which, if it had been more refined in all respects, would certainly have been able to shine much more.

And what do you think? Have you already tried this title or are you thinking about doing it? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned to for all the news dedicated to the world of video games. To buy video games at a discounted price, we advise you to take a look at the Kinguin catalogue.

An ambitious space opera… that could have shined brighter..

Plus points

  • Lots of interesting ideas…
  • Intriguing plot…
  • Design of areas and enemies overall well characterized

Points against

  • … unfortunately not all developed at their best
  • … with some fluctuations in the narrative pace and uncharismatic characters
  • Animations a little too woody and unnatural