Housemarque's roguelike sci-fi shooter Return was a critical success when it first launched in 2021 as a PlayStation 5 exclusive. With the positive reviews, it's no surprise that others wanted to emulate the style of the game. That's exactly what Top Wounds seems to have done, but while the game looks like Return at a quick glance, it's nowhere near the quality of Housemarque's game.
Wounds on Top may have taken some inspiration with its spin aesthetic and setup, but it plays more in a highly linear way with Dark Souls weapons. Player visitation in Wounds Above Equivalent Dark Souls consists mainly of rolling around, dodging bonfires and attacks to replenish their health and respawn all enemies. The game lacks Dark Souls' deep gear system and trades melee weapons for guns, but other than that, it tries to mimic the Souls-like formula in a very obvious turn skin.
Needless to say, the most important thing in a shooter is that shooting is fun. Unfortunately, Top Wounds completely ruins the shooter, with the cursor flying wildly across the screen when aiming the sights for the first time and requiring players to adjust their gameplay accordingly or play with precision to make it manageable.
As players explore Wounds on Top, in the generic alien world, they'll encounter a small selection of enemy creatures to practice their shooting. There are only a handful of different enemy types in the game, and they're all driven by predictable AI that ensures every encounter plays out exactly the same way. There are acid spitting enemies that go underground and always appear behind the heroine Kate. There are gorilla-like creatures that protect the weak spot in her chest, then pounce for an attack and expose it. There are monsters that look like a combination of a scary snowman. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and John Carpenter's creature Thing that attacks with an easily evading tongue and has bulging, shiny weak points on its back.
Wounds on Top has players fighting these same enemies and a few others over and over again, offering little in the way of a real challenge beyond the fact that her attacks do a lot of damage when they land. However, Kate's arsenal of gadgets can trivialize almost every enemy encounter in the game. Players gain access to a shield that allows them to be hit multiple times without actually taking damage, as well as a grenade that slows down time and allows players to quickly take down even the strongest enemies.
The Wounds at the Top fight is repetitive and boring, exacerbated by the fact that some enemy attack patterns are copied and pasted from one enemy type to another. For example, gorilla-like enemies with weak points in their chests have an attack pattern of swinging at Kate and then slamming their fists into the ground three times in a row. This exact same moveset is found in one of the later bosses in the game, so even the bosses don't offer any unique challenge.
While most Soulslike games focus heavily on boss encounters, Scars on Top treats them like an afterthought. Bosses in the game can easily be overwhelmed by Kate's overpowered equipment and weapons, and the only thing that stands out is the fight against an armored scorpion-like creature. This battle takes place on a frozen lake and players have to break the ice to freeze the scorpion and expose its weak points. This is easily Top Wounds' most interesting boss fight, but it quickly becomes apparent that this one can also get cheesy, and that ruins everything. Players can break the ice, hit the scorpion's weak points, refreeze the ice with the cryo gun, and then break the ice again before the scorpion can even move, making the fight pathetically easy.
Fighting bosses and enemies in Wounds Above is by no means uninteresting, and while part of the problem is how powerful Kate's arsenal is, at least some of the gadgets are fun to use. As players progress through Wounds Above, they'll gain access to new equipment and weapon upgrades that expand Kate's abilities in combat. This includes everything from the aforementioned shield to a grenade that soaks enemies in a liquid that can then be ignited using a flamethrower. Setting a large group of enemies on fire can be somewhat satisfying and it can be fun to figure out which weapons and devices are well matched for each combat situation, but it's a temporary pleasure that doesn't last long.
Players can have some fun throwing flammable liquid grenades at enemies, but they won't be amused by the game image splitting in half when they throw a grenade. When players throw any grenade in the game, the image blurs with a transparent copy of Kate on the screen. This isn't a one-off glitch either, it happens every time Kate throws a grenade - so much so that one wonders if this is a deliberate design choice. If so, it was the wrong decision to make, as it's confusing on the move and makes an already ugly game look even worse.
Top Scars have a production value of zero. The game's graphics feature an overall art style and wooden animations. The voice actors do a decent job for the most part, but it's unintentionally hilarious to see their emotionally-charged delivery come out of characters with an impressive range of puppets. Players will also have to deal with stuttering cutscenes and other bizarre graphical mishaps. One of the most confusing situations can be seen early in the game, when players walk up to a shiny wall and see Kate's reflection, but instead of seeing Kate's face they somehow look at the reflective surface and see her back, which should not be physically possible.
The only really good thing about Scars on Top is that it is mercifully short. Depending on the difficulty setting and how often you get lost in the game's more confusing areas (it desperately needs some kind of map), it can easily be completed in five hours or so. Players should unlock the vast majority of them. Top Wounds achievements and trophies along the way, the game distributes them at a ridiculous rate. Players must get achievements for crafting all items, finding all upgrades, scanning all enemies, and so on, without even really trying. This way the game is good for achievement/trophy hunters who want an easy Platinum trophy, but be warned that the last few achievements never unlock for us. It's also worth noting that Top Wounds only allows players to make a single save, so missing anything for an achievement means starting from the beginning and losing the other save in the process.
Unless you're really desperate to unlock a series of easy achievements, there's no real reason to play. Top Wounds. Like a rough draft of a video game. Some games have been accused of being half-assed, but Wounds Above is like raw dough. It has some interesting concepts and weapons, but it never develops into anything resembling a full-fledged gaming experience. Its budget price of $40 is still asking too much for even the most stubborn third-person shooter enthusiasts. Wounds on Top may mimic games like Return And Dark Souls, but it's unlikely to please fans of either game.
Top Wounds releases on February 28th for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X. Today Technology received an Xbox Series X code for this review.