Gamescom 2022: Scars Above Hands-on Preview

Intriguing Sci-Fi thriller meets punishing, Souls-like combat with guns.

Scars Above is the best game I got time with at Gamescom. I’m not saying it’ll be a certified banger when it releases sometime in early 2023, but it’s the one game that when my 20-minute hands-on time was up, developer Mad Head Games had to forcibly eject me from their booth.

The premise is a classic one. A giant tetrahedron-shaped alien spaceship shows up on Earth’s doorstep. Naturally, humans are a bit curious, so they send the Sentient Contact Assessment and Response Team (SCAR) to go and have a word.

Predictably, things don’t go quite to plan, and the whole group is hauled across space onto some weird alien planet. You wake up as Dr. Kate Ward – a scientist – and set out to discover what’s happened and why your spaceship is in little bits on this strange new world.

This is where my hands-on time started. I start walking and take a look around my surroundings. I’m in a hot, humid, damp, and dreary swamp. I’m urged to go forward and cut some vines with my knife. I eventually stumbled across a gun called VERA, a welding tool of some description, and almost immediately put it to use.

A weird face-hugger-style thing pops out of the water and takes a swipe at me. I instinctively Souls-rolled out of the way and pop half a dozen crispy shots at the creature, and notice that as I’m hitting it, the classic damage numbers pop up – but with a twist – I’m doing more damage because the thing is soaked in water and I’m using an electric-based gun: elemental damage is a thing in this game.

I look at my health, and that one swipe has murdered my health bar. In fact, it’s still draining. And it’s because that face-hugger thing has poisoned me. So this clearly isn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill third-person action game. And then I remembered that Mihajlo Ciric, Associate Lead Technical Artist, who was guiding me through my playthrough, reminded me that his team had planned for me to “die a lot.”

But what Mihajlo hadn’t realised is that I’ve completed Elden Ring and all Souls games, and I’m just generally a fucking masochist when it comes to dead-hard content.

It was hard to disguise my shame when I died five minutes later and saw him smiling out of the corner of my eye.

My goodness, Scars Above doesn’t pull any punches! It sort of feels like a Souls game, but with guns. Take bonfires – they’re simply the giant alien tower things that restore your health and ammo. Panic rolling is a thing in this game, and bosses, don’t get me started on bosses, but yes, they’re in there too.

Another thing it does share in common with Souls is that things can go from good to bad very quickly. A bit later in the demo, when I was starting to find my feet a little more, the game threw up multiple enemy types at me, and I quickly ran out of ammo to deal with them. I switched to the knife, and it simply didn’t cut the mustard. So I legged it back to the bonfire – I mean tower – and replenished my health and ammo.

Light environmental puzzling was featured in my playthrough as well. Immense gate-looking structures prohibit you from progressing at specific points of the game. A few well-placed VERA shots activate the doorways and allow you to progress. It’s the same with gooey, alien webby stuff, except you’ll use a flame gun to traverse this roadblock – and you’ll need to craft it too.

Yes, crafting is also in Scars Above. From what I experienced in the short playthrough, you’ll be able to craft new guns and gadgets to help turn the tide of tough battles in your favour. There’s a pretty substantive skill tree as well. They’re split into Xenobiology, and Engineering branches, which I presume has something to do with how you’ll be able to deal with enemies and hazards in the game.

In terms of plot, I didn’t get to experience much of it, but the game plays out over voice lines from Kate, her colleagues, and this weird alien presence. Collectibles also help tell the story too.

Visually, the folks at Mad Head Games have played a blinder. I’m not saying the graphics are top-drawer, but I just think the aesthetic ticks a lot of boxes for me. It sorta looks like a blend between Oblivion (the Tom Cruise film), Control, and Returnal. I mean, hats off to them, really. They’ve taken clear inspiration from iconic Sci-Fi and created something that somehow draws the best bits of all of them.

I genuinely don’t have anything bad to say about Scars Above. Well, actually, I thought the voice acting was a bit wooden at times during my playthrough. But besides that, I thought the combat was solid, challenging, and had enough variety to keep me on my toes. And the weapons felt snappy, sounded crispy, and packed a bloody wallop.

The art design, while not totally original, blended elements of my favourite Sci-Fi games and films into a single satisfying package. And yes, I wouldn’t say what I experienced was mega-challenging, but hard enough to get me interested, for sure.

The big questions right now revolve around plot and combat for me. Will the plot carry itself well after the exciting Gamescom Opening Night Live announcement trailer? And will combat continue to become increasingly more difficult as the game progress? Or will you become completely overpowered and steamroll your way through the whole game?

With a 2023 release date on the cards, we won’t have to wait long to find out.

Since my Dad bought me a Master System after a stint in hospital I've been utterly obsessed with video games. Sonic The Hedgehog was my first love, but since then, I've not been fussy with genres - RPGs, FPSs, MMORPGs, beat 'em ups and sports simulators - I play them all.

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