by Jordan Helsley
previewed on PC
The Smart Side Of Sci-Fi
Dr. Kate Ward is a scientist, not a warrior, so when she becomes stranded on a mysterious planet, she must use her wit and intelligence to overcome its many obstacles. As any scientist who ventures into the unknown might do, she takes great effort to analyze the flora and fauna and makes meticulous log entries. In my time with Scars Above, this was the part that shined above the rest.
While you're given a brief prologue section to familiarize yourself with the rest of your crew, you quickly find yourself alone in an alien land, searching for answers and familiar faces. Armed with little but a scanner and a melee weapon at first, Kate is going to take in the sights while she forges ahead. It is this element of scanning new discoveries, and sometimes meticulously analysing the intricate biological systems you find, that set Scars Above apart from a myriad of sci-fi action games that could fill a similar role. You're not here to kill everything or conquer this land. You really just want to get home. During the preview, I found myself as invested as Kate in the inner workings of the ecosystem at hand, not to mention the other mysteries that show up.
The combat in Scars Above is refreshing. You'll develop your arsenal into a few firearms with elemental properties that quickly and clearly spell out how intricate things could get from here. It starts with an electric zap that combos on enemies that are in water or simply wet, and it soon adds a charge up fire shot useful for burning weeds and hitting weak points. You wade into the (pun intended) waters of these elemental combinations at a speed that feels fitting in the shoes of our scientist, and our strategy doesn't stop there. While this system certainly won't be endless, even the small portion I could experience proved a shining example of combat challenging enough to force you to engage with it, and reward you for doing so.
Even with firearms in hand, you're not a killing machine. Combat is about your brains and your limited mobility, composed of a basic dodge. These elements, of course, will also play into environmental puzzles. At first glance, the gameplay on display here looks like a by-the-numbers third-person shooter, but the addition of some minor 'Souls' mechanics adds a delicate flavour. You won't be doing corpse runs, but you will use the equivalence of bonfires, complete with enemy respawns and healing recharge, and opening shortcuts once you finish a section of the map. Combine that with the punishing combat, and you've got a low sugar Dark Souls game that somehow feels just different enough to avoid annoyance.
Pretty In Space
Serbian development studio Mad Head Games is surely no Bethesda, but they still seem to have crafted a beautiful and thoughtful sci-fi game in their first outing. It won't be melting any otherwise functioning graphics cards, but Scars Above is no slouch, which makes its beautiful and mysterious world that much more enjoyable. Even early on, it's a land that feels realized and well considered, and I am eager to see what else the planet has in store for us.
My preview was only about three hours, but that didn't make it any less impactful. I came away from the experience with an excitement to see how the combat develops, and a desire to solve the mysteries. Scars Above is scheduled to launch on February 27th, 2023, and it appears to be a sci-fi tale worth experiencing when it comes out.
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