Preview | Scars Above

Dork Souls

Scars Above is a future sci-fi Soulslike that I shouldn’t be enjoying as much as I am.  I’ve played through the first three chapters and while it isn’t the prettiest, the combat isn’t the best, and the story has been a bit derivative I’m having a great time while playing it.  Why is a giant alien spaceship hovering over the earth, where do you wake up after interacting with it, and just what the heck is going on?  Lots of neat things, so let’s break down the early game.


I am starting to get Soulslike fatigue. It’s no different in this competent 3rd person action RPG.  You are a young scientist aboard a ship in the future. You head out into low earth orbit to scan an Alien spacecraft that has come to Earth with no signs of communication.  Things go sideways and you wake up alone on a planet with breathable air and lots of enemies that want to kill you. You’ll work to find your crewmates, figure out what is going on, and get real good at slaughtering the local wildlife in the process. The soulslike part of the game is the fact that there are no automatic checkpoints.  When you die you get sent back to the last alien pillar at which you can save.  Thankfully you don’t appear to lose anything for dying, other than your time.  Any doors or paths you unlocked stay open, but enemies will respawn whenever you save or die.

The souls games use this as part of the progression, learning from death.  Combat in this game is far more basic and focused almost entirely on shooting and gadget use.  You do have a melee attack that can take out the fodder around you, but for every major enemy you’ll have to swap between your scientific tool turned weapon V.E.R.A. as you attack enemy weak points.  V.E.R.A. has four damage types, energy, fire, ice, and poison.  You’ll quickly unlock each along with a plethora of gadgets.  You have a healing injector that recharges at checkpoints, another heal you have to spend the game’s only currency for (more on that in a bit), shields, status effect clearing items, and so on.  To power these you need to find fiber in the environment, with which you craft things on the fly.  Some gadgets like the shield operate on battery power and that either replenishes at a checkpoint or you can use fiber to craft a recharge.

Combat itself is fast paced and in the “perfectly fine” camp.  The creature variety has been decent so far, though the reliance on jump-scare-style encounters has worn a bit thin.  Most enemies are mindless creatures who just run at you.  If you’re in the rain your energy and ice weapons are more effective and can combo for big damage a ’la Anthem.  In the cold weather of chapter 3, your fire ammo becomes key at both keeping you alive by setting plants on fire and breaking ice to drop foes into for an easy kill. I am playing on PC for this preview and while it isn’t the deepest or tightest feeling combat I am enjoying it a lot. The exploration on the other hand is lacking severely in comparison to the best in the genre.

The exploration and puzzle part of the game is a mixed bag.  I like the almost adventure game style point click segments, but the amount of slowly moving the cursor around and waiting for the interact prompt to show up waiting that I’ve done has been frustrating.  At certain times the game will move to a locked camera and you get a cursor to interact with objects.  Knowing exactly where to go for each interaction isn’t always intuitive and instead becomes a hunt-and-peck type of setup.  There is crafting in the game as well but it’s mostly just “hold this button” style, though it is appreciated that I don’t have to travel back anywhere to do it.

Set Paths

The game works on a “see a way through that is inaccessible so go around and then unlock it” system of opening up the map.  See a bridge but the controls are on the other side?  Expect to spend a few minutes fighting enemies in obvious combat arenas and then loop around to those controls, unlocking the shortcut.  Where it has failed so far is in masking how obvious each path is. There is no jump button, instead, that is either roll or clamber up at specific points.  This leads to a very basic and obvious pathing system that doesn’t encourage much in the way of exploration. There are upgrades to find, such as basic bonuses for your suit or weaponry and purple knowledge cubes. The latter is your main way of leveling up and earning ability points.

Those ability points can go into a plethora of stat-increasing and ability-unlocking items in a kind of ugly but readable UI. A lot of this game feels ripped out of the mid-2000s but in a good way. The parts that don’t are the music, which is fantastic, and the voice acting which is far better than most games of this scope and budget tend to have.  Getting back to the music, the highest compliment I can give is when a game reminds me of the first Mass Effect title, and the music in this one has repeatedly done so.  It’s well crafted, fits the alien environments and future storylines, and is matched by competent voice acting and writing that is rare to see in smaller games like this.

The overall scope of this title is obvious from the get-go. Graphically it’s ok at times and really janky at others.  Face textures and skyboxes look off occasionally, with the latter having some surprisingly low-resolution assets. The animations are decent, not because they look particularly good but because they never get in the way of the gameplay. The environments are a mix of ugly swamps and decent-looking vistas so far, and I like the overall art style.  It’s not a pretty game but it hasn’t gotten in the way of enjoying the story and gameplay at all.

In Conclusion

My first 3 or so hours with Scars Above have been a lot of fun.  It’s a lower-budget future sci-fi action game with some clever mechanics and great music.  Keep an eye on the site and we may have a review closer to launch in February.

This game was previewed through Steam on Windows PC

Jesse 'Doncabesa' Norris

Proud father of two, lucky to have a wife far too good for me. I write a ton of reviews, am a host on the You Had Me At Halo podcast, and help fill out anywhere I can for our site.

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