by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Something is out there
There have been numerous novels, movies and TV shows about alien races visiting Earth. On most occasions, the alien race is here to enslave mankind such as those in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or bring about the end of the world as in Independence Day. Scars Above follows a familiar blueprint when a strange alien object known as the Metahedron appears above Earth’s atmosphere. The Sentient Contact Assessment and Response team (SCAR) - consisting of scientists and engineers - is sent to investigate this object and to find why they are here.
Players take on the role of Kate Ward, one of the scientists aboard the spacecraft that is charged with investigating. Of course, on their way to investigate this strange appearance, things go awry, and Kate wakes up on an alien planet without her crew, her ship - the Hermes, or any meaningful equipment. Players must then explore this planet to unravel the mystery of the Metahedron, find the rest of Kate’s crew and return home.
Only a scientist
Scars Above is somewhat linear in its approach, with Kate moving from one mission goal to the next as she explores the alien planet. As a scientist without any weapons training, Kate begins her journey with just a laser cutter at her disposal. This can be wielded like a sword and can be effective against the creatures she encounters early on, but it will soon become apparent that she will need something more powerful if she is to survive. This is where her scientific abilities come into play, as Kate collects data from defeated foes and plant life scattered around the alien landscape.
This data can then be used to craft weapons imbued with special abilities such as electric shocks, fire, ice (cryogenic) and acid. The creatures Kate confronts are generally vulnerable to at least one of these weapon types, but the various elemental weapons can often be combined for more effective kills. I found that I was often combining the cryogenic weapon with the electrical weapon, firstly freezing an enemy, and then blasting them into thousands of icy shards. I found the fire weapon was less useful in combat, but it was better at preventing combat, as it could be used for burning egg pods and nests. I did feel like Ellen Ripley in Aliens when she finds herself in a nest of alien eggs as I was burning them, particularly as players can hear the screaming come from the dying creatures within.
As Kate explores the alien landscapes, I must admit that I was expecting more combat. But the game sets a wonderfully eerie tone as you move from one goal to the next. Alien creatures will often appear out of nowhere, and so although the amount of combat is rather limited, I was always on edge, waiting for the next creature to jump out at me. There isn’t too much of a variation in creatures, but this is clearly by design as Kate extracts the data for each to help improve her available weaponry.
Bringing down the behemoths
Despite the combat being somewhat dreary from time to time, the boss battles are anything but dull. Each of the large enemies that players come across are quite powerful and can take a decent amount damage before they inevitably succumb. Like the standard creatures, the bosses will have a weakness to a specific weapon, and it is enjoyable working out their patterns and vulnerabilities. Most often, players will be required to use each of the available weapons in a certain combination in order to bring the behemoths down, and finding this combination can feel quite rewarding, especially if it has taken numerous attempts to kill off the beast.
Although the game is rather linear (except near the end where three paths can be selected in any order), Scars Above does encourage exploration, as heading off the main paths can be advantageous. On most cases, these divergent paths will lead to a special purple cube that contains knowledge. Collecting this knowledge – which can also be gathered from defeated creatures - will gain points that can lead to skills upgrades such as increased capacities for ammunition and battery, faster reloads, and increased stamina.
Visually, the early part of the game has a Dark Souls feel with dark settings filled with swamps, rocky outcrops and barren trees. Even the checkpoint system is similar, except rather than a small bonfire to mark the location, players need to find large alien pillars. As players move through the chapters, the settings transform across various landscapes, from snow covered mountains, to futuristic caverns, to the visceral innards of a gigantic creature, each with its own set of hazards - including the harsh environment at times. The beautiful settings are matched by the superb sound effects. The atmospheric soundtrack sets the tone wonderfully, with an ominous change in tune indicating when a large foe is nearby. The voice acting too, enables players to fully understand Kate's plight.
My only gripe from a game that lasted around 14 hours - was that my character got stuck in one location and I was forced to restart from one of the checkpoints. But as the checkpoints are reasonably frequent, it was not much of an issue. Being that Kate is a scientist rather than some sort of muscle-bound gun-toting soldier, Scars Above takes somewhat of a more sedate approach to the action, combining puzzle solving with bouts of combat and jump scares from alien creatures that are reminiscent of Dead Space. Indeed, Scars Above seems to have borrowed traits from several games that all combine well to make Scars Above and enjoyable experience. This mixture of simple puzzle-solving and light combat may not suit everyone, but I certainly enjoyed crafting weapons and gadgets that helped bring down the Custodian.
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Satisfying boss battles
Reasonably sparse combat