Scars Above review: A shot of Souls

(PS/Xb/PC) *** Age: 12+

Ronan Price

It begins, like so many other sci-fi cliches, with a lone astronaut landing on hostile alien planet. You will not be surprised to learn that your character has no idea how she got there. Likewise, it’s no shocker to realise the swampy landscape teems with belligerent lifeforms hellbent on your destruction.

Scars Above attempts to rise above this most hackneyed of preambles with a third-person shooter that draws many cues from the structure of the Dark Souls series. It’s not quite a Souls-like in space – think of it more a mid-priced riff on the Returnal vibe of live-die-repeat.

Your astronaut needs to discover how she’s ended up at wrong end of the universe, where her crew went and why a mysterious ethereal figure is trying to help her. So she scans the wildlife, the terrain and the vegetation for clues, sometimes triggering crime-scene recreations of past events.

Mostly, though, she’s firing a big gun in a rock-paper-scissors combo of ammo types that matches the enemy and their weaknesses. In fact, it soon becomes imperative to juggle multiple blasts of differing ammo to generate a cumulative effect. You might freeze an enemy in their tracks before frying them with electricity. Or identify a weak spot that needs a flaming bullet to complement your regular rounds.

Of course, the towering, hard-hitting bosses can require a mixture of all four ammo types, entailing a frantic bout of switching as weak spots get exposed briefly in each phase. More than likely, you’ll end up dead, whereupon you respawn at the most recent pillar – like the bonfire in Souls lore – with everything restored, including the monsters.

Scars Above can fairly lay claim to some smart level design, with paths that loop back on each other, opening shortcuts that ease the pain of repeatedly running the same gauntlet of death. Naturally, there’s a crafting system, a skills tree and even a clutch of environmental puzzles to be solved.

It’s a game that’s easily consumed in large gulps. Yet the humdrum script and the unswerving palette of green-browns conspire to lessen its persistence in the mind. Scars leaves its mark at first but it may be one that’s destined to fade.