When I took my first steps on the mysterious planet of Scars Above, I felt my excitement and fear growing. Almost immediately, an encounter with his grotesque alien creatures turned out to be a lot more complicated than I expected. I even died a few times before making any significant progress, giving me the impression that I was at the beginning of a tough and stressful journey that would require my best to survive on its default difficulty level. But my fear of the unknown proved unwarranted in this case, and the initial excitement wore off after an hour or so, as I unlocked the first weapons in a vast arsenal. After that, most of my battles became trivial, and they stayed that way until the very end – even when I turned the difficulty up to hard.
The first section of Scars Above is calm. You are introduced to your protagonist, Dr. Kate Ward, and the rest of the space science team as they investigate a strange object in Earth orbit. Some silly chit-chat, puzzles, and exposition later, you get to (barely) get to know your team and craft your first gadget – a tool that will become like the standard assault rifle you find in most shooters, but with ammo from shock. Then, you’ll hear an unnecessarily serious speech from your captain that’s supposed to be inspiring but turns out to be cheesy due to its delivery and timing. The next thing you know, you wake up on an unknown planet with no idea what happened or where everyone went.
Shortly after picking up an electric cutter – a basic melee weapon with the most boring attack pattern I’ve ever seen – I faced the first enemy. This one was easy enough, a sort of spider that usually brings a few friends but doesn’t really mean any trouble – unless there are a lot of friends. However, when I grabbed the assault rifle I built and headed back to the main road, it was the turn of the second type of creature: a mutated scorpion that usually hides underwater. He surprised me out of nowhere and then hit me with a poisonous projectile. After dealing with the beast and her partner, I realized that my life was still going downhill thanks to my new status. There was no way to cure it, and a few seconds later I was respawning at the checkpoint. The same scene was repeated a few times until I managed to stop catching the beast’s vomit with my face and reach the next checkpoint.
What honestly felt unfair at first became the most important lesson I learned over the nine hours and six chapters of Scars Above: keep your distance from enemies and everything they throw at you. Your electric cutter is a joke – even with the charged attack you can unlock, it will always leave you exposed when you could blow the aliens’ heads off with a good headshot. Sure, this can be challenging at times in a linear third-person shooter where you’ll face faster monsters and smaller spaces with nowhere to run as you progress through levels, but after the first few hours you probably won’t need any hints. fight at all. You quickly craft new weapons and gadgets and level up, and before long you’ll end up being so powerful that you’ll meet little to no resistance.
In essence, the weapons in Scars Above are the typical weapons you’d expect from any type of shooter, but with an elemental twist: there’s the aforementioned assault rifle with electric bullets, a gun that can be carried to fire ammo, a blaster from grenades that freeze enemies and a shotgun that disintegrates them with acid. As you can imagine, you can chain attacks together with these weapons and produce elemental reactions that will deal bonus damage to anything that gets close to you, and you can also use the environment to your advantage. Fire and acid bullets create a strong explosion, while shooting an enemy standing in water with your grenade launcher will freeze them faster. Some enemies will have a soft spot on their body that will represent the element you want to shoot them with, and there are color-coded spheres around the levels that are effectively explosive barrels that also deal elemental damage.
This is a smart way to make you change weapons at all times, thinking about what is the best and most effective plan against what is in front of you. This kept me interested for a while… until I realized the system worked too well. Most of the creatures in front of me could be crushed in mere seconds, exploiting any possible elemental combination, regardless of their strength or situation. Rather than being part of a larger plan, firing an electrical orb at just the right moment completely wiped out all surrounding threats.
If that wasn’t enough of an advantage, Kate has the ability to create a variety of devices, such as a barrier that protects her for a few hits, a gravity grenade that makes everything in its area except slow you down for several seconds. , or a hologram that attracts creatures, among others. They all use the same resource (batteries), which are crafted from a resource that is pretty much everywhere, or replenished by restocking your inventory at any checkpoint. This is very convenient because it means you are unlikely to run out of ammo or crafting resources, especially after increasing your carrying capacity.
What’s worse is that the array of gadgets that look interesting and well thought out when used individually seem useless when they start to overlap with each other. For example, you can basically spam the gravity grenade and effectively get the exact effect and/or advantages of every other device. And you can forget about dying when you find permanent healing items with multiple charges that can be easily recharged.
Some regular enemies that you’ll discover later on will make things a little more interesting, like a beast that can teleport behind you or a fungus monster that blinds you. They arrived a little too late for the party though, after I’d already been pretty bored for several hours effortlessly killing everything around me.
Screenshots of Scars Above
Not even the bosses stand out as challenges, except maybe the first one you encounter while you’re still crafting your basic weapons. That doesn’t mean these battles are completely uninspired – they come with mechanics that will keep you constantly switching ammo and moving around large arenas. They’re fun while they last, but they also don’t feature ideas you haven’t seen in other (and better-executed) games. For example, breaking the surface where an enemy is standing isn’t exactly new, and it’s also not great when you can do it more than once in a row without letting the boss move or shoot you if you’re quick. enough. The fact that some boss battles are repeated doesn’t help the case either.
What’s so frustrating about all these issues is that Scars Above has its moments of pure joy. Facing a new creature for the first time usually involves a moment of genuine surprise, and figuring out how to deal with it is immersive. Even being an unstoppable killing machine can bring satisfaction when you feel rewarded for perfectly understanding the tools at your disposal, or just for feeling your own power. And some of the later areas even surprised me with their scatological and repulsive (but in a good way) design, at least when compared to the drab plains and boring swamps of the earlier stages. The lack of a map guiding you is a good choice, as it makes you follow your intuition and find your way, even if none of the scenarios are very large or full of secret paths. The building blocks for a more engaging game are here, but they’re surrounded by elements that lack polish, depth, and any sense of challenge.
In addition to fighting, you’ll spend time analyzing resources, clues left in the environment, and some basic symbol-matching puzzles. There is an intention to bring a scientific perspective, considering the past of our protagonist, which is mixed in the exploration – for example, when scanning unknown objects we hear what Kate is thinking. She approaches how a creature’s digestive system works with genuine amazement, wondering how her body evolved that group of organs and functions.
The delivery of Erin Yvette, Kate’s voice actress, feels fresh and embodies a character more concerned with discovering and understanding what’s around her during these quieter moments. It’s a shame her face is expressionless during most scenes, creating an unintentionally hilarious contradiction between what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing.
The goal of finding the rest of the crew is one of the main plot points, but it’s weak and lacks motivation due to the fact that we don’t know anything about them. I can’t tell you a single thing about any of the characters other than that they are “science people” and one of the guys has a cute little kitten that wears a sweatshirt. The intended emotional moments don’t arrive and some of the transitions between scenes are incredibly abrupt, killing the pace and tension built.
Something similar could be said about the plot. While Kate’s motivations are clear and you always know why she’s doing what she’s doing and why, it can’t be said to be interesting or original. The world of Scars Above feels flat, with a few cool alien designs here and there, but not much else that made me want to explore every corner or find every available audio log. Throughout the story, there are some cool ideas that I won’t spoil, but they either get abandoned or never pay off in any meaningful way, and it’s a disappointment to see them fizzle out.