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Scars Above Is Not Really A Returnal Clone

Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Genre: Third-Person, Action-Adventure, Shooter, Metroidvania, Soulslike

2019’s Control and 2021’s Returnal brought a new level of bizarreness to sci-fi games combining elements inspired by horror science fiction franchises such as Twin Peaks, Fringe and Event Horizon. Scars Above is a lot like those aforementioned games but without the benefit of a AAA budget. Developer Mad Head Games did an admirable job making Scars Above an enjoyable game but it’s not without its flaws.

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

The story’s premise in Scars Above is nothing we’ve never seen before. Humanity encounters a mysterious object called the Metahedron and a team of scientists called SCARS goes on a space mission to the great unknown to investigate it. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go well and the protagonist, Kate Ward, finds herself alone and stranded, so it’s up to her to find her missing teammates and solve the mystery of the Metahedron while navigating the strange alien planet that she’s on.

The levels in Scars Above are mostly linear with secret and optional passages here and there, but they’re not open-world and there’s nothing much in terms of exploration. The levels are separated into different biomes, such as a swamp, a frozen wasteland and others. One of the main game’s mechanics is similar to Souls-like titles. If you die, you respawn at checkpoints called Pillars. You can also rest and heal at these Pillars but they will cause all enemies in the area to respawn. However, unlike, Souls-like games, you don’t lose your resources and experience points when you die.

The core combat in Scars Above consists of mostly third-person shooting and dodging, as well as using different gadgets. There are four different guns in the game, with each gun using a particular element such as electricity, fire, ice and acid. The main combat mechanic in the game is figuring out what element enemies are weak to, or what their weak spots are, and shooting with the right gun. There are also status effect mechanics in play, like shooting an enemy with an ice gun will fill up a meter. When that meter is filled, the enemy will freeze temporarily.

There are also unique ways to combine elements like using the electric gun on enemies in water will deal more damage. There are also a bunch of gadgets. One will give you a shield, while another can slow down an enemy. They spice up the gameplay a little bit. Later on, you’ll get alternative versions of some guns, but overall, there’s really not much in terms of variety during gameplay. What you do in the first few hours is what you’ll be doing until the end of the game, which is around eight to nine hours long.

Sci-fi fans will appreciate the vibe and tone of the game. As a sci-fi fan myself, I like the scanning mechanic. Every time you defeat an enemy or find something new, you can scan it and you can read some details about it in the menu. It’s not much, but it’s clear that the developers did put a bit of effort into the game’s world-building and lore. There are also some horror vibes in the ways that some levels and enemies are presented. However, to be clear, this is not a survival horror game in any way.

In addition, while Scars Above does have a lot of similarities to Returnal (female protagonist, similar sci-fi setting of being stranded on an alien planet, etc), they’re not the same game, despite both being third-person shooters. Scars Above is an easier game with difficulty options, and it’s not a roguelike. Its Metroidvania elements are simpler and the combat is more methodical, so there’s less emphasis on speed or skill like in Returnal.

As for problems, Scars Above suffers from some issues and bugs. The game crashed on me in my first hour of playing the game and the game does feel janky overall. Considering that this isn’t a AAA game, it’s bound to feature some conventional euro-jank, especially during combat. However, the worst problem in the game is that it doesn’t have a mini-map, or any map to speak of. There are many times in the game where you have to backtrack (some Metroidvania elements) or search for something, but you’re forced to memorise the map because there’s no mini-map or map to refer to.

The Final Frontier

In conclusion, Scars Above is a decent game that fans of sci-fi can appreciate. It does suffer from jankiness and some issues, but it feels like Mad Head Games did put a lot of effort into making the elements in this game work properly.


  • The combat can be fun, especially mixing elements and gadgets.
  • A great sci-fi story that sci-fi fans can enjoy.


  • Issues and bugs.
  • Jankiness (euro-jank).
  • No mini-map or any in-game map.


Scars Above was reviewed on P55 based on a review copy provided by the publisher. It is slated to launch for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC on 28 February 2023.

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