by Dan Lenois
reviewed on PC
The sincerest form of flattery
While many indie first-person shooter games have chased after the audience attracted by 1993's industry-defining classic Doom, developed by Id Software, often offering little in the way of originality themselves, not nearly as many have attempted to follow the modified template set by 2016's Doom, or 2020's Doom Eternal: Building off a modern game engine, with a similarly refined visual aesthetic, while still keeping to the same dungeon-like gameplay formula. Yet this is precisely what Scathe attempts to achieve. The fruits of this labour, however, produce a middling taste.
Scathe was developed by Damage State Ltd, a new developer with no prior release history, and was published by Kwalee, who likewise are new on the scene, whose portfolio appears to otherwise consist entirely of upcoming games, with Scathe being their first released title.
When it comes to first-person-shooters, the two biggest keys to any game's success has always been its line-up of weapons, and its rogue's gallery of enemies. While many people can take this to mean more of both is always better, it's often more important to ensure quality over pure quantity. Players will likely appreciate the decent array of enemy types here, although the roster is restricted enough that players can reasonably keep track of the various attack patterns and weaknesses of each individual enemy, without constantly referring to the in-game wiki.
Bullet Hell or Tactical Shooter
Scathe is, at its core, a bullet-hell game. But it’s a strangely atypical one. Traditionally, bullet-hell games have been top-down games that incentivize the player to rapidly respond to a metric ton of on-screen sources of damage, often giving players no time to think, but instead reinforcing a playstyle dependent on instinctive muscle-memory responses to each situation. One single mistake, in a bullet-hell structured game, will often mean the difference between life and death. However, Scathe goes off in an opposite direction, often punishing the player for choosing a more aggressive playstyle, and instead rewarding players for treating it as a tactical shooter.
Peeking around corners, conserving ammunition, and encouraging them to limit the extent of combat encounters in favour of locating the entrance to the next dungeon room. The player is also given more than enough health to absorb a decent amount of damage at any time, with the game also supplying a ton of health packs, for any player, who explores for even a few moments, to find.
The player is initially given a machine gun as a starting weapon, along with infinite ammo with said weapon. While the gun does appear to have some kind of overheat mechanic, as it does seem to stop firing past a certain point during sustained use, it's a decent choice at dealing poke damage to basic enemies. The player will later unlock more powerful weapons, assuming they carefully search every inch of the playable map. However, don't expect to use them very much. There are enormous imbalances regarding ammo supply for secondary weapons, to the point where it often outweighs the benefits of relying on any weapon other than your primary.
Where did he come from?
There are similar balance issues with enemy spawning. There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or rhythm involved in how enemies spawn in. Enemies often just spawn in out of nowhere randomly around the room, often mere feet in front of, or behind, the player. The developers have confirmed they are aware of this issue, but no fix for said issue has yet been forthcoming.
The HUD is easily the greatest abomination present in the game, far beyond the actual demons and imps that populate the world. The game fails to properly communicate anything beyond basic values, such as player health or the amount of points the player has earned through kills. As a player, you never know what exactly you're supposed to be doing, in terms of objectives. The game doesn't make it clear how to find and unlock additional weapons. You're never even explicitly clear on what the end goal is, let alone ever have a general sense of what lies between you and said goal. When it comes to visual communication, the game adapts a "sink or swim" mentality. Punishing players for poor game performance is all well and good, but when the game doesn't itself seem to know what it wants you to do, punishing the player feels as pointless as it does vindictive.
Players who might be hoping for a fluid combat system might not fully get what they're looking for. Scathe does not offer any quick melee option. Melee in general seems not to be supported. So if you find yourself pinned in a corner, you might as well accept your inevitable demise.
Double-jump and verticality in general are likewise not present, which is disappointing, given the often vertical nature of most dungeon rooms you're likely to encounter. The player has a basic strafe ability, which will launch the player in the direction they're facing at the time of initiation. However, if a player changes direction mid-strafe, the game will still carry them in the original direction, not the direction the mouse is currently pointed. Movement overall is very clunky, and in desperate need of reworking.
Overall, Scathe is a perfectly adequate shooter. However, it fails in its intended purpose of adequately supporting either a bullet-hell playstyle, or on the flipside, a slow-paced tactically-driven experience. Its current mechanics and balancing make it unclear what demographic the developers are attempting to chase. With a few months of sufficient patching and overhauling, it’s possible that Scathe could transform into one of the best Doom-esque indie FPS games currently on the market. For now, it’s definitely worthy of being added to one's wishlist. Whether it's worth purchasing outright, however, is a question worthy of far more doubt.
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Beautiful visual aesthetic, Decent enemy variety
Fails to convey information visually, Limited combat & movement systems