Scars Above Has Promise But Gets Tripped Up in Details | Review

We’re diving deep into the new sci-fi game Scars Above to see if the final result is something that lives up to its promised potential.

Scars Above
Developer: Mad Head Games, Prime Matter
Platforms: PlayStation 4|5, Xbox Consoles, PC
Release Date: February 28, 2023

Of the many games revealed at the most recent Game Awards, Scars Above is one that definitely grabbed my attention. With a female protagonist, smooth graphics, and a sci-fi story that was tinged with more than a little horror; Scars Above looked poised to be one of the first great games of 2023. But did it live up to its potential?

Well….not exactly.

The Story

Scars Above is set in the near future when Earth has been visited by a mysterious object dubbed “the Metahedron.” The story begins when one of the scientists sent to scan the Metahedron is unexpectedly deposited on an alien planet with no sign of her ship or crew mates. The goal is to unravel the mystery of the planet you find yourself on as well as discovering what happened to your ship.

The story is definitely one of the best elements of Scars Above, as the story is slowly revealed piece by piece. The game accomplishes this very smoothly by rewarding you for exploring the environment with clues, like audio logs from various crew members, and ship artifacts that help you put together what happened before you woke up on the planet’s surface.

There’s also an air of mystery that permeates the entire environment once you make it to the planet, this is helped along greatly by the eerie music that only seems to heighten in intensity the farther in you go.

The Gameplay

Scars Above offers several difficulty settings: Rookie, the mode I played on, is the equivalent of story mode, while the harder modes are Specialist (medium difficulty) and Commander (very hard difficulty). Based on my experience, I highly recommend starting with Rookie mode. Even at this level there’s a steep learning curve and a stiff penalty if you die, as you’ll have to restart all the way back at the last save point.

Saving progress in Scars Above didn’t quite go the way I expected compared to other modern games I’ve played. There doesn’t appear to be any manual save option, you can only save progress at various “pillars” that are unlocked as you proceed through the game.  This is extremely important as dying automatically takes you back to the last pillar you were at. I don’t think this is a bad thing per se, but it does seem unusual that you can’t just save whenever you want, though this may be intentional on the developer’s part to build up tension the farther into the game you go because you can’t save at will.

While the game’s unusual save system does mean you’ll end up traversing the same ground over and over again depending on how often you die, it doesn’t mean all of your work is undone. Obstacles that were previously removed before a death are still gone upon respawn, so players don’t have to panic about having to do certain actions all over again.

Another gameplay feature—or should I say several gameplay features—I enjoyed were the various scanning features that could be employed while exploring the environment. While it’s easy to get caught up in the “survival” aspect of the game, there are frequent reminders that your character is still a scientist and it is refreshing to take a quick break from fighting alien creatures to scan the local flora and fauna and thereby flesh out your knowledge of the planet. Also, the scanning effects look really cool.


Unfortunately, while the story of Scars Above is amazing and well worth exploring, the actual gameplay in Scars Above can be a little frustrating. What bothered me the most is how a major factor in fighting monsters is switching ammo to an element the monster is weak against. For example, one can use electric based ammo on a water based monster for maximum damage. This isn’t entirely bad, because if you get the element combination right the monster is dead relatively quickly. The downside, however, is that if you get it wrong, you cause almost no damage and are dead if you don’t get out of the way in a hurry. This feels rather unbalanced. While it does make sense to reward players for using the correct ammo, the punishment for not doing so feels overly harsh.

There’s also the issue of remembering which buttons operate which weapons. The system of switching between weapons came across as slightly clunky, particularly with one weapon set that can’t be used unless you specifically aim it first, which makes fighting monsters slightly problematic. Speaking of problematic, figuring out how to heal took a while to nail down as well. The user interface for healing and using other items is a little confusing. Compared to other survival games I’ve played, this part could definitely be a little better put together. On top of that, it takes a moment to switch ammo, which makes it relatively easy to die and respawn at the last save point because the monster is usually moving faster than you can reload and it’s very hard to reload and dodge before getting hit.

Another combat related detail that effectively shut the game experience down for me was the experience with the “boss” monster I encountered. I have no idea if this was actually a boss or not, but it might as well have been as the halting progress I’d made stopped dead upon encountering it. The monster encounters I’d made up to that point in no way prepared me for this creature, which is hardly a good thing.

Scars Above essentially forces you to use strategy in its monster battles, be it a brief encounter with a monster or a boss battle. If you try to go in guns blazing and no plan, you are going to die, period. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can be fun to plan out how you’re going to attack and get past a certain monster, but it might turn off some gamers who just want to attack and kill the monster and be done with it so the story can move on.

Is it Worth It?

All of this is to say that while Scars Above is a game that is absolutely loaded with potential, it gets tripped up so often in various details, especially with combat, that it never quite fulfills that potential. Most will likely find something to enjoy in this game, all I ask is that you temper your expectations going in.

Scars Above
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Armed with a PhD. in Musicology, Becky spends much of her time blogging about movie music on her blog Film Music Central when she isn't otherwise occupied watching movies and her favorite anime series.