Scathe is one of the most immersive games to release this year because it actually made me feel like I was in a living Hell. This FPS takes place in a demonic labyrinth filled to the brim with demons, and like Hell, I felt every bit of torture and despair one might come to expect from the underworld. And no, this isn't a compliment. I went into the Doom-adjacent FPS Scathe expecting to see a cool twist on the genre but left disappointed in wasted potential.
Scathe is a Frustrating Conundrum
In Scathe, players take the role of -- well -- the eponymous Scathe. He's some kind of bargain bin Doom Guy. Our only introduction to Scathe is watching him awkwardly walk into a chamber where he is commanded by a Holy force to purge the forces of Hell or some nonsense. Really, the first indicator that Scathe was lacking in any sort of polish was just how clunky that walking for Scathe looked.
After that, you're thrown to the wolves. The objective for Scathe took me some time to figure out, because it wasn't explained by any sort of tutorial in-game. There's no hand-holding in Scathe much to its detriment, and that lead to an unpleasant first half of the game. You can extrapolate a basic objective based on the Steam page and a barely helpful in-game wiki, and that's it. The entirety of Scathe takes place within a labyrinth that can be explored in many different ways through various connecting paths.
You're supposed to collect something called "Hellstones" but it's never really told how you do this. Furthermore, there are runes scattered throughout levels in the labyrinth that you have to collect. The reason for collecting these runes isn't explained either and there is no immediate incentive, so you might be frustrated later on to find that you'll need quite a few in order to unlock doors to bosses. After defeating a boss, you'll get a Hellstone. Levels in the labyrinth are filled to the brim with the most basic and unimaginative enemies. When I say filled to the brim, I mean levels are positively overflowing with demons, many of which are spawned over and over again, creating a tedious repetition.
Truly, most enemies require no strategy to tackle whatsoever. Where in Doom, various demons have their own weaknesses and quirks, Scathe's enemies are nearly indistinguishable. Scathe describes itself as a "bullet hell," which is a stretch. Projectiles don't really have any discernible pattern to them, and they hardly vary in shape or size. All the fun of a bullet hell -- the variety of projectiles and "patterns" you can learn to dodge -- are absent here. I like the concept of a FPS bullet hell, but the only thing Scathe and bullet hells have in common is the "Hell" part of it.
The most frustrating aspect of Scathe is the progression system. No, you're not unlocking perks and leveling up. Like in many old-school FPS games, you'll unlock weapons and new tools as you progress. In Scathe, there are new guns and new spells, both of which can be used in tandem with each other. The labyrinthine nature of Scathe means that you have a good chance of missing weapons and spells for a large chunk of the game. I spent about half my playtime using the same exact, standard machine gun the entire time.
I did not realize this (and it wasn't explained, of course), but new weapons and spells are marked on the map if you discover enough of the labyrinth. However, even by looking at the map, you'll have to mouse over each individual room and a very faint and gray outline might show up denoting a weapon or spell can be found here. The weapon progression system is far too vague for players and makes for some very boring opening hours if you make the same mistake I do. A later update to the review build added a map legend, which only helps slightly in readability.
Touching on the gunplay in Scathe, it leaves a lot to be desired. No weapon handles terribly, but they feel underwhelming. The standard starting gun rapidly shoots out bullets and as an alt fire, propels a cluster of missiles. It might sound similar to Doom Eternal's machine gun, but Scathe's standard weapon lacks any sort of pizazz. Most other weapons, including the shotgun and crossbow, do seemingly the same amount of damage. Alt-firing with these weapons results in typical explosive effects, making it hard to prefer one over the other. Ammo for these weapons is also scarce throughout, so around 95 percent of the time you're relying on the stock weapon. Spells add a bit more spice and usually damage enemies or add a bit of extra utility, but I found myself forgetting to use these often due to how unnecessary they felt.
Scathe is Rough Around the Edges
Scathe is a decent-looking game at first glance, but under closer inspection, graphics and animation do not stand up to scrutiny. If you're killed the camera stands still showing your gibbed corpse, and I would catch glimpses of enemies close up. The hobbling enemies are hideous and look downright goofy on the move. Nor are these enemies very creative -- like the player character, most demons look like a bunch of Doom 2016 rejects. As for the music, well, it's serviceable, but there are very few tracks as a whole and I have reason to believe these songs don't loop since I would go through periods of silence in the midst of my demonic rampage.
Graphics and sound aside, the problems I experienced multiple problems in the original review build, including overlapping text, random Steam achievements, difficulty navigating the options menu, and even a nasty bug that prevented me from completing the game at all. Much to the developer's credit, they pushed out a build to fix many of the issues. Without the technical jank associated with Scathe, it's a bit more tolerable an experience but cannot make up for the braindead approach to gameplay and lack of imagination.
Barring these issues, of which there are many, and can at least say Scathe runs decently well. It also utilizes Nvidia's DLSS, so for those with RTX cards, you can get some extra frames per second. I still experienced a very strange graphical glitch in several areas of the game, making the ground appear "fuzzy," which still remains after the updates. There's definitely some balancing issues with Scathe, as an offhand pistol I found does ridiculous damage to enemies. I was able to defeat a boss in mere seconds just by using this pistol, which defeats the purpose of a boss fight. While most other enemies in Scathe feel lifeless and bland, a boss has a chance to stand out. Dying so fast to an overpowered weapon ruins it. On a related note, hazards like toxic water and lava are often found in stages. If you even dip a single toe into the stuff, you'll die instantly. It really breaks up the fast-paced flow of gameplay and can be downright unfair at times.
I didn't even touch on the fact that a certain off-hand weapon -- a pistol -- killed one boss in mere seconds and most enemies in a single hit. Lava and hazardous water throughout these stages also instantly kill you, and you're likely to fall in often, ruining the fast-paced nature of the gameplay.
Scathe Review | Final Thoughts
I will reiterate, I believe there's potential in the concept. Being able to forge your own path and tackle bosses and get weapons in the order of your choosing is pretty cool, it's just that the implementation of this concept is sloppily done. With drop-in and drop-out cooperative play with up to four individuals, there might be some fun to get out of this with friends -- unfortunately, we were not able to test this feature. I doubt it will make much difference with all the other faults. There's no doubt Scathe is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. While Scathe may get more bug fixes in the future, but the mediocre gunplay, repetition, and uninspired, generic graphics can't be changed so easily.
TechRaptor reviewed Scathe on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the publisher. It will also be available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 at a later date.
- The "Bullet Hell FPS" Concept is Intruiging
- Some Bugs and Technical Issues
- Lack of Tutorials and Direction
- Enemies Feel Bland and Repetitive
- Boring and Flat Gunplay