Scars Above Hands-on Preview – Shooty and a bit Soulslike

Scars Above

Souls-like is slowly becoming a negative term in the games industry. For the most part, I would argue that this is focused very much on developers that try to focus too much on mimicking Dark Souls and never genuinely making the game their own. The thing about soulslikes is that they are more than just about "git good" gameplay. The story, worldbuilding, and level design all link into what makes Dark Souls excellent. As another Souls-like-ish game, can Scars Above stand where others have faltered?

The reality of any limited hands-on is that you'll never truly see what a game has to offer. You can't get a sense of the worldbuilding or any overall narrative. You can't fully grasp the level design if everything happens to be interconnected. It leaves you with a few limited aspects. My time with Scars Above at Gamescom showed me a little about how levels will progress, and It gave me an idea of how the combat will work.

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If there's one thing I can take away from my time with Scars Above and the developers from Mad Head Studio, my ability to learn a game on the fly isn't lost. I died a few times; that much is certain. From regular creatures swarming me and completely slaughtering me to a singular, giant creature that attacks me and ultimately kills me. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration; I didn't do that bad. The combat isn't on the same difficulty level as most soulslikes, with elements taken out of the playbook of many older titles.

One such example is the weaponry you use. The gun I got, called VERA, can use multiple ammunition types. Fire and Electric are the two I could use in my hands-on, giving a slight glimpse at the tactical opportunities that will be made available in combat. Enemies in some water? Use your electric ammunition against them, stunning them a bit, and doing more damage. Are you facing off against one of the bigger monsters I fought at the end of my hands-on, one with a big red spot on its arse? You're right; use your fire ammunition on the literal glowing weak spot.

Maneuvering to get to that may not be too simple, meaning you'll have to move, dodge, and generally keep on your toes. So yes, it is a bit soulslike, the inclusion of guns just adding that new layer to it. How many weapons and how many types of ammunition, I'm not entirely sure. I know the game has a crafting element, and ammunition can be reasonably scarce. I also know that while I was playing, I did find myself short of ammo at one point, but dying and returning to the recently activated alien pillar (bonfire) reset the plants where I could gather ammo.

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Different ammo types did also enable a little light puzzle elements. Using fire ammo on alien vines blocking a path can open up a secret passage or two and will be used to get you moving forward. Using a few well-placed shots, you'll also use some of your regular ammo to activate large alien doors. Opening these doors offers you a shortcut to the pillar, so dying won't require you to go through the same stuff repeatedly.

Level design, light puzzle elements, opening up shortcuts and a few minor side paths. Scars Above felt reasonably well put together, but beyond the challenging combat, I can't say anything stood out and screamed "must have" at me. The fight was challenging enough, and it kept me coming back for more in the time I had with the game, so it had that as a positive. From what I saw, particularly looking at the reasonably expansive skill tree, there'll be a fair amount to face off against later, and you'll be able to direct how you play, at least to an extent.

Beyond that, there's so much I can't judge due to not being able to get an impression. The plot is intriguing; you're somebody called Kate who is stranded on the strange planet Scars Above takes place. She is a scientist, like Isaac from Dead Space; However, she's just a flimsy human. The story is already compelling by bringing in a few time travel elements. Several collectibles boost your knowledge and offer more about what's happening, and a few moments where you investigate what came before by scanning the area.

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Scars Above has an interesting setting, that much is certain. It looks decent, too, with some interesting design choices for the world. However, I didn't see much at all, and the game was slowly opening up and introducing a few more significant areas. If this opens up into something larger, particularly if this alien planet branches out into more than "swamp", it could offer something. Scars Above will be launching in early 2023.

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