Scars Above review: A competent Souls-lite that struggles to stand out

scars above artwork
Scars Above review: Is this Souls-lite any good?Prime Matter

A 'Souls-lite' action sci-fi adventure, Scars Above tells a pretty standard tale about explorers in space, stranded on an unknown planet and fighting for survival against wild creatures and an inexplicable alien presence.

You step into the jumpsuit of Dr Kate Ward, a scientist on the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response (or SCARS) team. After making contact with a strange object floating just above earth called ‘The Metahedron’, Kate awakens on a barren plain, guided by the visage of an alien life-form.

Without spoiling anything, you’ll discover what happened to your team and why this planet that seemed to once have intelligent life is now dominated by aggressive creatures.

As you wander, you’ll quickly equip yourself with your one and only weapon, the 3D printed VERA. As the game progresses, VERA can be upgraded to handle four main elements: electricity, fire, ice and acid. This core mechanic is the game's most interesting aspect, but it never quite delivers the highs of similar titles.

scars above
Prime Matter

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Combat is straightforward enough. Each creature you encounter has a weakness to certain element types and a clearly-defined weak spot. Some of them offer an interesting challenge; the environment can be used against some to great effect, while larger enemies may have armour you can peel off through damage.

If submerged in water, VERA's electric setting will do much more damage and in a wider range, while using fire to melt ice beneath an enemy's feet will submerge them and freeze them in their tracks, leaving them open to a one-shot kill.

When some of the larger battles arrive, dancing between creating ice to walk on and starting fires in safe spots to fight off hypothermia as you electrify groups of enemies is a fun experience.

The combat really shines during the boss battles, which force you to strategise on your feet in order to work out key weaknesses and how to best utilise your combination of elements to bring down the enemies towering above you. But while the combat is reliable, much like other parts of the game, it never quite manages to push the mechanics to their limits, with opportunities to experiment few and far between.

scars above
Prime Matter

As you explore the world, you’ll find monoliths which once activated save your progress and refill ammo and supplies, but at the cost of reviving all enemies you’ve previously dispatched. Over time, you’ll open shortcuts making saving a risk-free option, so while the concept makes sense, it’s never quite the challenge it feels like it wants to be.

Part of this problem is due to survival never really feeling like something we have to think about in terms of the world around us. Ammo is found in abundance thanks to it coming from plants found all around you, and you so quickly find upgrades for your weapon, you always feel well-equipped.

On one occasion, two weapon upgrades were found mere steps from each other, meaning not only did we get a powerful new attachment, but it was already buffed before we’d had a chance to use it.

A small skill tree allows you to increase certain defence stats and improve ammo capacity and reload speed. Experience is handled by increasing Kate’s knowledge, which can come from scanning enemies and parts of the environment – but mainly from finding ‘knowledge cubes’ scattered along the map.

This isn’t too taxing as, much like ammo and plant life, the cubes are all over the place. We actually finished the game with a maxed-out skill tree and several points left to spend.

scars above
Prime Matter

Related: Dead Space remake review

The semi-open world you find yourself on has potential to offer some interesting ideas, but doesn’t really encourage revisiting areas aside from a couple of very specific instances, which is a real missed opportunity.

After initially having to find a workbench for upgrades, Scars Above abandons this altogether and opts to make upgrading instantly accessible from the inventory menu. It left us wondering if, instead, requiring to backtrack to a bench every time your gun was due an upgrade would have drastically upped the survival ante – especially as you’re forced to balance saving your progress at the cost of reviving all enemies each time.

Scars Above is a competent third-person action game. The story is just interesting enough to pull you through, while the combat is solid enough that you won't find yourself bored of the moment-to-moment battles. There's little here that you wouldn’t have seen before, but there’s some fun to be had in it's familiarity for sure.

It’s just a shame really that, in its efforts to be a solid action-adventure, none of its ideas were explored any deeper as we’d have loved to have seen the team swing for the fences in one area or another to produce something truly standout.

Platform reviewed on: Xbox Series X

Scars Above is out now on PC, Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5.

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