Mad Head Games' first endeavour into AA space comes off as a mildly disappointing third-person action adventure shooter.
What you need to know
- What is it? A third-person action-adventure shooter in a sci-fi world.
- Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
- Developer: Mad Head Games
- Release date: February 28, 2023
- Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S
Scars Above review copy provided by the publisher.
Scars Above is a sci-fi third-person shooter, telling the story of Kate Ward, a female scientist who along with her crew, is sent to investigate a mysterious alien artefact that appears in space near earth.
As Kate and the team, known as SCAR (Sentient Contact Assessment and Response) prepare to make the first contact with this large structure, things go wrong and their ship crashes on a hostile exoplanet. Kate gets separated from her crew and it's up to her to save them and uncover the secrets of this mysterious place as she travels across all the traditional biomes we usually find in video games like swamps, caves, snowy peaks and grass fields.
As you discover more evidence of what is actually happening at this distant place, the story does get to a point where some interesting things start to happen but I felt that the pacing, especially in the first part of the game was too slow. The story never really properly kicks off where it would hit you with this grand reveal and it is a bit predictable, as it's not very unique or original.
As the main protagonist, Kate comes off as a bit generic. Her backstory and development in Scars Above aren't anything to write poems about but they are solid enough for a game of this scope. I do think that Mad Head Games could have done just a little bit more with their hero to make the players actually care for her and her mission.
Scars Above is described as a challenging game but apart from some frustrating deaths caused by a janky dodge mechanic and camera, it's not overly demanding on your skills. The gameplay is fairly simple - you get to a zone, follow the obvious path, kill some monsters along the way or solve a simple puzzle to unlock the door to the next zone.
The exploration is pretty straightforward and won't ever lead you further than a couple of corners to reward you with a piece of Knowledge which eventually turn into a skill point once collect enough of it.
As for the most important part of Scars Above, which is the combat, I wasn't overly impressed. I'd describe it as pretty basic, which is true for many aspects of Scars Above. You have a gun that shoots elemental projectiles like ice, poison, fire and shock and as you've probably guessed, enemies come in similar varieties too so you'll use fire ammo to take down enemies weak to fire, electricity to shock monsters that are weak to that element and so on.
This does work well at times and it could have been a solid foundation to build on if only it had a bit more depth in the form of different shooting patterns and potential weapon traits that would add variety to each elemental gun. You will eventually stumble upon crafting blueprints later on that allow you to craft new and more powerful weapon varieties but these are just extensions of the already existing concept of elemental damage.
There are various gadgets too like an armour shell, gravity traps that slow down enemies and fluid grenades that are helpful when fighting a large group of smaller enemies to name a few. Later on, new gadgets can make the combat feel fresh and engaging at times but I've felt like the game introduced these too late and there's only a handful of them that are actually fun to use.
Monsters are fairly simple and a lot of them have huge spots on their body, indicating which element you should use to take them down. Such a design gets old fairly quickly and it usually comes down to killing the same monsters - that only look different - in the same way over and over again.
Combat comes to its lowest point in boss fights which are a major disappointment due to their simplicity. Most of the boss fights require you to shoot the spots on the bosses' bodies with the correct element over and over again until you eventually deplete their HP. There are moments where I had fun when taking on these giant monsters but those moments are sadly overshadowed by the repetitiveness of these encounters.
Visually, Scars Above looks average but it does introduce some impressive vistas and underground areas from time to time. I'd say that the art style is probably the game's stronger point in terms of visuals, as the graphical tech and fidelity aren't something that I was impressed with.
But since I'm not a sucker for graphics and usually prefer higher FPS than sharp visuals and level of detail, Scars Above did impress me with how well it runs on my PlayStation 5. The game doesn't offer any graphical modes though and puts on 60 FPS by default, which is buttery smooth with only minor drops in heavy scenes.
Given how even larger studios struggle to properly optimise and polish their games, I have to really give it to Mad Head Games for delivering a game that actually can be played without any hiccups, crashes or bugs.
Overall, I'd say that Mad Head Studios played it too safe with their first major release. While there are some good moments in Scars Above, in the end, this is just an average third-person action-adventure shooter that doesn't try anything new, despite being set in such an interesting sci-fi world, that invites unique ideas and concepts.