Scars Above Review


VERA Gunworth

Ah, the AA videogame, those mid-priced wonders that often get overlooked by the blockbuster loving crowd of AAA fans, despite delivering some interesting ideas often with an endearing slice of jank. I’ve long held a love for AA titles, possibly thanks to growing up playing a lot of games from smaller software houses during the 80’s and 90’s, and I’ll always jump at a chance to give them a look for NGB – which brings us to Scars Above!

The first action game from Mad Head Games, Scars Above is, at its core, a story focussed Action RPG with exploration and third person shooter mechanics. Players take on the role of Kate Ward, a member of a science team sent to investigate the mysterious Metahedron, a structure which has appeared in orbit around Earth. After a strange occurrence, Kate wakes up on a mysterious alien planet and sets out to find her team as well as understand why she was brought here and who her mysterious and ghostly alien guide is.

Very story focussed, Scars above features a surprising amount of dialogue for a more AA title with full voice acting for all characters and even alien dialect. This certainly helps immerse the player a great deal and, as Kate is largely the only human you’ll be spending the majority of the game in the presence of, is essential for world building. This largely takes the form of Kate’s research of the planet she’s found herself on – as a scientist there’s a genuine sense of fascination as she scans different alien items, keeps audio logs and muses as to the purpose of different flora and fauna. Obviously this is, to a degree, a game mechanic similar to Metroid Prime, allowing the player to identify weaknesses in foes, but it really helps to develop the ecosystem on the planet and build the backstory for the games events. Admittedly Kate’s monologuing can lead to “chatty protagonist syndrome” which can grate somewhat when the character randomly drops hints to a player trying to solve a puzzle, but this is kept to a minimum.

Despite some early comparisons to Metroid, from game areas made up of different biomes, to twisting pathways with secrets to find and even some light puzzling, Scars Above turns out to be a more linear, chapter driven tale. Kate is ever moving forwards, encountering stronger foes and tricky boss battles, with side paths leading to often easy to miss gear upgrades and bonus experience points. While it’s a shame that this world isn’t more twisty and interconnecting, it does keep the experience tight and gives the player focus to explore as much of each area as possible before moving on, making sure to save their game at glowing golden pillars lest they meet their end at the hands of one of the games many tricky enemies.

As mentioned, combat in Scars Above is played out from a third person vantage. Kate wields a tool she personally constructs at the beginning of the game called VERA; a rifle designed to help out with science tasks on her ship which quickly becomes her primary form of attack. Initially fitted with electricity based bolts, Kate will be able to craft a number of upgrades for VERA throughout the course of her adventure, allowing her to tap into different elemental attacks like fire and ice, each of which will not only allow her to open up new secret areas, but will also exploit different weak points on enemies and bosses which can be uncovered by a quick scan with a click of the right control stick. In addition to VERA, Kate also wields an energy blade, a weapon combo which immediately draws comparisons to Housemarque’s Reternal – the comparisons stop there, however, as the combat in Scars Above is more methodical and position focussed as opposed to Returnal’s quick paced reaction driven blasting.

In addition to combat items, Kate uses a number of gadgets and consumables which require battery power and “fibre” to use respectively. Gadgets tend to be focussed on aiding combat by providing personal shields, or allowing Kate to cover areas in oil to improve fire based attack damage, while consumables are more focussed on supporting Kate’s health, clearing status ailments and even recharging the batteries for gadgets. Using these in tandem with VERA can lead to some potent combos which become essential as the game progresses and, while most gadgets and consumables are found during the course of the story, some are completely missable if the player doesn’t search!

Rounding out Kate’s arsenal is a tech tree style upgrade system. Scanning items and finding “knowledge” cubes in the world will provide Kate with experience which, when enough has been collected, will turn into skill points. The player can distribute these throughout the skill tree to improve Kates health, stamina, resistance to status ailments and other helpful skills, which will make some encounters much easier to manage. One cool thing about this approach is that the developers at Mad Head Games have decided to allow the player to redistribute these skills and respec their build if they want to, meaning that you could temporarily switch to a helpful ability at the expense of another to help you through a certain area. This, combined with the ability to tweak the games difficulty as you progress leads to a more accessible experience than many other so called “difficult” games.

Visually, Scars Above is great, with a well realised world and a very “hard sci-fi” approach to a story which features healthy doses of both cosmic and body horror as it progresses. It all adds up a nice atmosphere with some genuinely good jump scares and a world that you’ll want to explore. Performance on the XBox Series X was also frequently hitting 60fps throughout, however there were dips into lower rates during busy times. Unfortunately, being a AA game there is a slight lack of polish compared to bigger budget titles – the creature designs can get a little repetitive, with similar monsters repeated throughout albeit with biome specific variations, while the controls feel at times a little stiff and unrefined. The visuals themselves as well don’t always hold up to scrutiny, despite looking great on the surface – some enemy animations seem a little forced, as well as a few lower resolution textures which can jar against the rest of the visuals. 

Bug wise, I didn’t encounter anything game breaking on my playthrough with minor issues relating to auto-firing weapons and scenery clips, however I’m also pretty sure that a mid game shortcut failed to open for me, leading to a rather tense boss fight!


With an RRP of £35, it’s hard not to recommend Scars Above to players looking for a lower priced alternative to bigger titles. With a well realised world and an engaging story that doesn’t overstay its welcome, the game is a great palette cleanser for anyone burned out by flashy big budget titles. It may be a little rough around the edges, but look past that and you’ll find a great little action RPG to lose yourself in.

Writes and produces films at independent outfit Shortorme Productions. Records music under the guise of Stage of History. Gamer since the days of the ZX Spectrum. Always on the lookout for something new and fresh.

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