Scars Above PS5 Review. We go on a voyage to an alien planet where nothing seems particularly pleased to see us (much like the family reunion) with Mad Head Games’ challenging action-adventure shooter. Find out if it’s alright to be lost in space in PlayStation Universe’s Scars Above review for PS5.
Scars Above Review (PS5) – Sci-Fi Shooter Makes the Most of its Influences
Scars Above is a typical AA effort in the sense its sci-fi adventure draws from a lot of influence wells in order to both stand out and catch the eye of those games’ fans in order to compensate for the naturally smaller budget’s limitations. Is that a bit of Dark Souls? Yes. Is there more than a smidge reminiscent of Returnal? Absolutely. Are those Metroidvania structures? You know it. It’s no surprise, and hardly a criticism of Scars Above as a game or any game that happens to share multiple spaces with the big trendsetters. Good ideas being done over is always happening. The key is taking those ideas and making something that’s at the very least, pleasing by its own standards. Scars Above is just that.
Scars Above’s official classification is as a ‘challenging sci-fi third-person action-adventure shooter’, which just shows you how broadly it’s sweeping to catch an audience. Developer Mad Head Games isn’t just trying to hit bullet points here though, there’s a genuinely cohesive set of ideas and structures in Scars Above that mesh the mish-mash together fairly tightly.
The story for Scars Above is deliciously mysterious, ominous sci-fi fare. A colossal alien structure appears in Earth’s orbit and an expedition squad called the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response team (the SCARS in the title) is sent to investigate it. Of course, things go awry and they end up hurled across space by the structure until they crash land on a mysterious planet.
You play as SCAR member Kate. She is a scientist, now alone and seemingly marooned on a planet she knows nothing about. Worse still is that this planet seems to have it out for her, as all manner of nasties parade around looking to take a bite out of her. She’ll need to use what tech she can find and her improvisational skills to fight back against the hostile planet and learn more about why her crew was brought here.
Work Smart, Not Hard
In the fine tradition of video game protagonists who are humble, yet brilliant scientists, Kate is a resourceful fighter who can whip some serious creature behind by being smart and more than a little bit tough. She is able to turn tools into weapons and vice versa, which is something that feeds into the weapon design overall in Scars Above. This alien world has that Metroidvania/From Software approach to exploration where finding new tools can help you access new areas and unlock routes that tie locations together. Of course, getting to these points is an arduous task in itself.
As I briefly touched upon before, this world is hostile. The wildlife is largely unfriendly and savage, and even the plantlife has a take-no-crap attitude. So for Kate to make her way through to the next area takes caution and strategy to reach. The enemy design is interesting from the off. Large water-dwelling creatures leap from marshes and either swipe with sharp claws at close range or lob venomous toxin at you from afar. This enemy shows you early on that you need a specific strategy for each foe if you’re going to have any chance of survival. You gain a shock rifle mod fairly early in the game, and soon learn that yes, shooting these enemies whilst they’re in the marshy water will deal much more damage, even kill them outright if you can catch them by surprise.
Weapons also tend to have tool abilities. Take the cryo weapon. You find Kate can’t pass some bodies of water because they’re filled with acid-spewing carnivorous worms. That is until you get the cryo weapon, which chucks globs of icy liquid out and forms slabs of ice for Kate to walk over the worms safely. Naturally, the weapon can also be used to hit elemental weakness in some enemies and provide a breather from deadly foes by freezing them in place. Generally, the weapon set ends up being entirely multi-use and ensures you rotate the set on a regular basis. It’s clear a lot of thought went into making the weapons feel worthwhile and varied, even if they don’t always handle as well as they could.
Before I get to that, I have to note that for the most part, I genuinely think the developer has done a fine job of presenting this game’s world and mechanics. Scars Above is a visually interesting game with some really good ideas concerning its enemy types and weapon set. The planet can come across as the usual array of action-adventure biomes with a sci-fi sheen, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t identity in what’s been created.
No Bug Hunt
It’s also not a game I found to be troubled greatly by bugs. Well, certainly not to the standard where it warrants any meaningful criticism. Sure there are some rough edges, but I feel the relative ambition of the project is a fair trade for that. Any time a smaller developer can make something like this and have it largely work, I’m far more willing to give it the benefit of the doubt than I would for a big-budget title doing the same things.
Still, there’s certainly some combat gripes to be had. Some of the weapon handling is a tad sluggish and some weapons take far too long to fell a foe. You have a limited, yet replenishable, substance that can be doled out to provide health or ammo that is earned by defeating enemies. This makes for an interesting challenge from battle to battle, but getting caught short and with the wrong kind of weapon can make some areas and boss battles a real slog to get through.
While combat has its problems, it is possible to adapt to its flaws and make it work for the most part, so it’s hardly a disaster. It just doesn’t quite match the quality shown elsewhere. That should be considered praise as much as it is criticism.
A Sharp Shooter?
Scars Above may not be the strongest collection of action-adventure ideas, but it has more than enough going on to ensure it’s an enjoyable challenge for fans of this particular kind of gameplay mixture. With a deliciously moody atmosphere and intriguing roster of monsters, Scars Above could succeed in carving itself out a personal niche in a stacked sub-genre or two.