In 2019 Control and in 2021 Returnal brought a new level of bizarre elements to sci-fi games by combining elements inspired by horror sci-fi franchises such as Twin Peaks, Fringe, and Event Horizon. Scars Above is very similar to these aforementioned games, but it does not have the benefit of a AAA budget. However, developer Mad Head Games has done an admirable job of making Scars Above an enjoyable game, although it does have its flaws.
The story in Scars Above is not particularly original. Humanity stumbles upon a mysterious object called the Metahedron and a team of scientists called SCARS goes on a space mission to the great unknown to investigate it. As expected, something goes wrong and the protagonist, Kate Ward, finds herself alone and stranded on a strange alien planet. It is up to her to find her missing teammates and solve the mystery of the Metahedron as she navigates through different pieces of the world, such as a swamp, a frozen desert and others.
The levels in Scars Above are mostly linear with secret and optional passages here and there, but it is not an open-world game and there is not much to explore. One of the main game mechanics is similar to that of Souls-like titles. When you die, you respawn at checkpoints called Pillars, where you can also rest and heal, but where all the enemies in the area reappear. Unlike Souls-like games, however, you do not lose your resources and experience points upon death.
The core combat in Scars Above consists mainly of third-person shooting and dodging, as well as the use of various gadgets. There are four different guns in the game, with each gun using a particular element such as electricity, fire, ice and acid. The main combat mechanics in the game is figuring out what enemies are weak against, or what their weaknesses are, and shooting with the right gun. There are also status-effect mechanics in the game, such as filling a gauge when you shoot an enemy with an ice cannon. When that meter fills up, the enemy will temporarily freeze.
There are also unique ways to combine elements, such as using the electric rifle on enemies in water causing more damage. There are also a lot of gadgets. Some give you a shield, while others can slow down an enemy. They add a little variety to the gameplay. Later in the game you get alternate versions of some of the guns, but overall there is not much variety while playing. What you do in the first few hours is what you do until the end of the game, which lasts about eight to nine hours.
Sci-fi fans will appreciate the atmosphere and tone of the game. As a sci-fi fan myself, I like the scanning mechanism. Every time you defeat an enemy or discover something new, you can scan it and you can read some details about it in the menu. It’s not much, but it’s clear that the developers did put some effort into fleshing out the game’s world and story. There are also some horror vibes in some levels and enemies, but to be clear, this is not a survival horror game by any means.