Scars Above Got Its Returnal In My Souls

Scars Above Preview: Bringing Together Things That Work

Scars Above

A strange structure showing up in the skies over Earth would definitely be cause for concern, so it’s no surprise that in Scars Above, various scientists and astronauts have been brought in to study it and try to communicate. That’s precisely what Dr. Kate Ward is trying to do when the Metahedron goes crazy and grabs Kate and her crew, throwing them to an unknown alien world. Waking up alone, the only path forward for Kate is trying to locate the rest of her team and figure out what happened to them while trying to stay alive along the way.

It’s hard to play more than a few minutes of Scars Above without noticing how similar it is to Returnal. This is a third-person shooter where you’re stranded alone on an alien planet. Terrifying alien enemies come at you regularly. The look of the world certainly feels familiar, and the camera is nearly identical. If someone walked in on you playing Scars Above, at a glance, they’d likely think you were playing Returnal.

Scars Above

That said, Scars Above isn’t exactly a clone. While the gameplay is quite familiar, all of the roguelike elements of Returnal are missing. The format of the game actually has more in common with a Souls title, though with multiple difficulty options. As you explore this world, you’re going to die fairly quickly. While you can upgrade abilities over time, with health being something I chose to increase pretty early on, in the early going, you’re not exactly set up to handle everything, and as new foes appear, many of them will take a bit of time for you to get used to. Death isn’t the end of things, though. Pillars spread throughout the world act similar to fires in Souls games, acting as a respawn point. Returning to a pillar also allows you to get some ammo and health back if you’re willing to respawn all enemies you’ve defeated.

Progress you make before dying stays with you after a death, even if enemies return as well. I frequently found multiple paths I could explore, even if a lot of them just led to items boosting my knowledge a bit. There are also pieces of lore spread throughout the world, filling things in and opening new bags of worms. If you only just arrived from your ship, how are you finding logs from your shipmates that suggest they’ve been here a very long time?

Scars Above

While the structure of Returnal was a part of its success, I’d argue that the phenomenal shooting mechanics were what really stood out in Housemarque’s hit. The pure joy of shooting pulled players in, even if the style of game or difficulty might have otherwise been off-putting. How does Scars Above stack up? It’s okay. The shooting here feels perfectly competent. Controls are tight, I had no problem hitting my targets, and I like how you unlock multiple elemental weapons that are useful against different weapons. They also open up a variety of environmental puzzle solving as well which I enjoyed, even if it’s pretty simple in the early going.

Little things quickly started to annoy me, though. There’s a level of jank to a lot of the animations and feel of the world that usually wouldn’t worry me in a preview, but Scars Above is set to release in just over two months, so there’s only so much time to correct this. Kate’s movement feels a bit slow, particularly against enemies who can close the distance between you incredibly fast. Any time I had to spend a moment switching weapons, I felt like I was on my heels. Enemies love to spawn behind you as well, and your lack of speed can often leave you taking significant damage before you have a chance to turn and face them. The various weapons have different utility, but they don’t feel all that different, though I did appreciate that they have slightly different timing, which players will have to get used to. The shooting here works well enough, I just wasn’t wowed by it. Still, there are a lot of skills for players to unlock, and I could definitely see it improving as you gain more of these abilities.

I enjoyed that you get various items in the world that do things like heal Kate or remove negative status effects. These share a common material required to use them, which means you have to really be strategic about when you use them. Healing Kate only to get poisoned a minute later and be unable to remove that isn’t fun, so you’ll definitely want to keep at least a bit of material for emergencies.

The environment of Scars Above may be reminiscent of Returnal, but its gameplay loop has more in common with a Souls title. These elements mostly work, even if it’s in part due to how fully it borrows them from successful titles. Some of the jank around the edges is concerning for a game only two months away, but there’s enough here that I liked that I’ll be keeping an eye on the final release.

Andrew Thornton
Andrew has been writing about video games for nearly twenty years, contributing to publications such as DarkStation, Games Are Fun, and the E-mpire Ltd. network. He enjoys most genres but is always pulled back to classic RPG's, with his favorite games ever including Suikoden II, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and Phantasy Star IV. Don't worry though, he thinks new games are cool too, with more recent favorites like Hades, Rocket League, and Splatoon 2 stealing hundreds of hours of his life. When he isn't playing games he's often watching classic movies, catching a basketball game, or reading the first twenty pages of a book before getting busy and forgetting about it.

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