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With an intriguing set-up, likeable lead, and aspirations of grandeur, Scars Above is a sci-fi adventure game that we really wanted to like. Unfortunately, the experience is held back by lacklustre combat, abysmal map design, and a central narrative that ultimately fails to launch.

After a mysterious alien artefact known as the Metahedron appears in Earth’s atmosphere, a crack group of scientists and engineers, known as SCAR — Sentient Contact Assessment and Response – is sent to investigate. You play as Dr. Kate Ward, who, upon investigating the artefact and along with the rest of the team, finds herself transported across the galaxy to a mysterious and inhospitable alien planet.

At least initially, the plot is engaging as Kate sets out to discover the fate of her compatriots and comes to grips with the hostile world around her. It's not long, though, before the shine starts to come off the experience.

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You spend most of Scars Above’s modest runtime (around six or so hours) exploring various passageways, battling alien beasts, and solving puzzles to progress. Given it's a smaller-scale project, it's still remarkable how quickly the experience devolves into repetition and frustration. For clarity, Scars Above retails for $39.99, or £34.99. Not factored into that price, however, is your time, whatever it's worth to you, and that's where the sales proposition falls down.

There are several different biomes you'll venture to over the course of your travels. While some have mechanics associated with exploration (such as setting a specific kind of foliage on fire to stave off hypothermia, or freezing worm-infested water in order to cross), none are particularly inspiring. There is no map, which isn't so much an issue the first time around, but in the back half of the game, you must return to each biome for narrative MacGuffin reasons, and we found it incredibly annoying to have to retread our steps from a different direction, often becoming entirely lost.

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Combat is the next pillar of gameplay, and it's decent enough for what it is. Kate will craft a half dozen or so weapons, each with a different elemental affinity and firing mode. So, a charged rifle that imbues a target with flame damage, for example, or a shotgun that fires acid rounds.

There is a pretty valiant attempt to tie this into a larger system of combining effects, which we did appreciate. For example, hitting an enemy standing in water with an electrical attack will imbue an area of effect, or following up on a burning enemy with acid will combo for massive damage.

However, it becomes rote rather quickly due to the extremely limited enemy variety, of which there are maybe seven unique variants (outside of bosses). Of those, two are introduced fairly late in the game. Expect to spend most of your time fighting either swarms of weak spiders or knock-off necromorphs that spit poison and can dive underwater.

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There are a few boss encounters sprinkled throughout, and some were genuinely engaging. The best of them incorporate elements previously used during exploration into the encounter in a way that made them feel like a final exam.

Still, there is a level of jank and stiffness that can’t be escaped, and while everything runs smoothly and looks great, navigating through each playspace and combat encounter becomes a chore long before the credits roll.

Puzzles are the final piece of the, well, puzzle, and they aren't great shakes either. There were too many for our taste, and what there was felt uninspired. Finding power sources in order to open doors, locating passwords in the environment, analysing objects in order to find clues — cookie-cutter video game fare with no reward other than simply being allowed to progress.

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On the flip side, the voice acting is surprisingly solid, and while the supporting cast is paper-thin in terms of character development, Kate herself is likeable enough. We couldn’t escape the feeling that, given the chance for a sequel with more resources, she could become an engaging character.

Scars Above makes a lot of hay regarding the fact that Kate is a scientist and not a soldier (despite her dealing death to countless aliens with the alacrity of a seasoned space marine). This is represented by her ability to synthesise items after analysing alien flora and fauna, and in some cases, reverse-engineering her findings into new equipment. It's a cool idea but underdeveloped; you just scan the thing and are given the item.

This equipment takes a variety of forms, from weapons to a healing injectable, a personal bubble shield, and an poison antidote, to name a few. All are powered by a battery that can be replenished using materials found in the environment. We found very little reason to use any of them outside of the added heal and the shield, with everything else feeling too situational.

Even when incorporating elements of the Soulslike genre, Scars Above fails to enact what makes FromSoftware’s formula so special. Enemies are tough, supplies are limited, and when you die, you're returned to an obelisk that functions like a checkpoint, respawning the same aliens in an area. But without any kind of soul-equivalent economy to lose or gain, there's very little reason not to simply sprint past troublesome foes, and the aforementioned lack of enemy variety only compounds the issue.


Scars Above is a more appealing prospect than it is a final product — an interesting premise that's ultimately lost amidst repetitive gameplay and mundane design. Some aspects of it are genuinely intriguing, if underexplored, but simply reaching for the stars alone is no guarantee of ever actually leaving orbit, let alone getting off the ground — and recommending this experience over any other is a bit rich, even for the lower asking price.