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Scathe Review – A Devilishly Good Time (PC)

Scathe is an intense, fast-paced, hectic new title which borrows its DNA from classic FPS titles such as DOOM and adds a layer of bullet-hell gameplay along with some magic. The result is something which feels both fresh and nostalgic simultaneously.

Scathe Review - A Devilishly Good Time (PC)

I had a great time playing through Scathe for review. Really, I should have known that this title would be great, given the pedigree of the development team. Still, the fact that this is the first title released by Damage State is impressive. The Scottish three-man studio made up of Chris, Tim, and Manu respectively have over a decade’s worth of experience in the industry and it shows here.

Still though, when one hears that a new company made up of a small team of devs are working on a DOOM clone as their first title, some level of scepticism is not unreasonable. Thankfully, this is one of the few times where I was glad to be proven wrong and have my preconceptions nixed in favour of a hugely enjoyable time playing Scathe for review.

Zooming around a hellscape while gunning down a variety of demons may sound familiar, but when the game keeps adding new factors into the mix it makes for an engaging experience. The huge charm that this game possesses also helps. The energy, the vibe, and the palpable respect for a bygone era are all great to witness in 2022 as someone who grew up with the DOOM games.

Scathe is available to purchase on PC on 31/08/22 and is expected to launch for consoles in early 2023.

This is a spoiler-free review.

Scathe | PC Release Date Trailer

Story: Sometimes, Less Is More

Not many people are likely to pick up Scathe for the story, as really it is the brutal, kinetic gameplay which is Scathe’s greatest selling point. Thankfully the developers also realise this and refrain from forcing pace-breaking cutscenes into the action. Instead, the game is allowed to flow and the story elements are kept more in the background.

With that said though, there are still some interesting plot elements present in the game. The story being told in Scathe is simple; your character is stuck in a hellish maze and must get out. Really, that is all that one needs to know and it is more than enough reason for me to want to lock and load some oversized guns and use them to annihilate a ton of evil demons.

Scathe is also the name of the character whom players control in the game and his official description alone is enough to tell you how badass he is:

You are Scathe, Enforcer of the Legions of Hell, forged from the earth by the Divine Creator himself.

If reading that description doesn’t make you want to check out this game, then I don’t know what will. Add to that the fact that Scathe is able to harness the power of the fallen mages who have previously perished in this maze and you have the makings of one awesome silent protagonist.

That jawline certainly looks like it was forged from the earth by the Divine Creator.

That jawline certainly looks like it was forged from the earth by the Divine Creator.

Due to the fact that the playable character is a being of few words, a lot of the game’s story-telling is done via the environment. Although we are never definitively told how this satanic maze of death and suffering came to be, just exploring it allows the player’s imagination to fill in their own respective backstory.

Other than that, all you need to know is that your goals are to kill everything that moves and collect those precious Hellstones to get yourself out of the hellhole that you find yourself in. If you were after something a bit more in-depth than that, then I’m afraid that this may not be the game for you.

Gameplay: Kinetic Killing in a Murderous Maze

Upon first glance, Scathe’s gameplay is hugely reminiscent of classic, legacy FPS titles such as Unreal Tournament and DOOM. For the first couple of hours, that is all that Scathe’s gameplay really seems to offer. Thankfully, just as the player is beginning to feel like they have experienced all of this before, new mechanics are incrementally introduced to keep players engaged.

The bullet-hell mechanic is something which is present from very early on in the game. Although there was a certain point when playing through Scathe for review, that I felt thing steps up a notch and then exponentially snowball to become a much more important factor in how I navigated Scathe’s gameplay loop.

I am not a huge fan of the bullet-hell mechanic, however, in a game which allows you to traverse the environment so quickly, it works a treat in terms of adding layers to Scathe’s gameplay. It was also a mechanic which consistently worked and felt well-implemented, never causing glitches or feeling tacked on.

Best to avoid those fiery, orange balls if you can.

Best to avoid those fiery, orange balls if you can.

Here, the mechanic just makes sense. It adds to the intensity of the experience without ever taking away from it by inducing too much unnecessary frustration. The other major mechanic which greatly changes things up is the use of magic.

The gunplay in Scathe is already engaging, but when it is mixed with the supernatural abilities introduced further into the game, countless combat options are opened up. Once equipped with an arsenal of weapons and powers, it is a joy to enter the next room. Whilst playing Scathe for review, some of my favourite moments came from knowing that I could dispatch demons in a multitude of different ways.

Speaking of that weapons arsenal, some of the guns introduced throughout Scathe are a ton of fun. One of my personal favourites was the Bow Blade, which essentially launches buzz-saw blades into whatever unfortunate demon happens to be standing in your way.

Every new gun that the game introduces is exciting.

Every new gun that the game introduces is exciting.

Another weapon which was a go-to for me was the Hot Hatch. This bad boy basically functions like a flame-thrower, meaning that it is great for clearing heavily populated rooms and inflicting enduring levels of extended damage.

Regardless of which weapon the player chooses to use though, the main thing which matters is whether or not it is actually fun to dispatch wave after wave of demons in Scathe. Given that the game’s entire gameplay loop revolves around killing hell-spawn, it is fundamental that fighting through these hordes is actually worthwhile.

Who's next?

Who’s next?

Thankfully, it is. Mowing down wave after wave of demonic creatures whilst playing Scathe for review is some of the most fun that I’ve had in a game this year. As mentioned earlier, there are certain points where things start to feel slightly stale, although just as soon as that feeling is setting in, a new weapon or mechanic is introduced to keep the player hooked.

The snappy traversal system also makes it a joy to navigate the hellish maze-like environment of the game and the way it is laid out is also cleverly done. Many times whilst playing through Scathe for review, I took note that the game would overwhelm you and then give you a moment to catch your breath back and regain some health, before launching you into the next hectic firefight. The way that this is solely done through the layout of the environment is impressive and shows the experience of the development team. 

Finally, although I never got to experience the game’s online functionality, the idea of drop-in/drop-out co-op sounds great in a game like this. The fact that it will be available across all platforms via crossplay when it drops for consoles next year is just an added bonus.

Audio and Graphics: Beautifully Ugly

One criticism of the game’s design could be how similar it is to that of the recent DOOM games. With that said though, Scathe proudly wears its influences on its sleeve in every other aspect of the game, so why would Damage State not base their demonic hellscape on another iconic, masterfully designed demonic hellscape?

Although I had an idea of how Scathe would look after watching the trailers for the game, I was not prepared for just how well this pocket of hell would be presented. Within the first few moments of playing the game, I ran past a puddle and was blown away by the detailed ray-traced reflections present in the game.

Aside from the fact that these puddles are made of blood, those reflections are stunning.

Aside from the fact that these puddles are made of blood, those reflections are stunning.

The flashy style of the game is another aspect which stood out and the use of plentiful particle effects marries well with the underlying aesthetic. I am also happy to report that I did not witness any visual glitches or bugs whilst playing through Scathe.

This is a title made by a three-man team and its environment looks on par with some of the best AAA environments out there. The design of the character models is also great, featuring some truly grotesque creations to behold. The gun design is also cool and matches well with the aesthetic of the environment.

Take a gander at this handsome guy.

Take a gander at this handsome guy.

The game’s musical score is comprised of rhythmic tribal drum-led pieces, which work well in tandem with the game’s fast pace. It is also extremely cathartic to hear the punch of a drum just as you land the killing blow on a demon who has been bothering you for a while.

This game was reviewed on PC, with a review key provided by Kwalee Ltd.

Summary
Overall, Scathe is an extremely impressive game. The knowledge that it was only developed by three people is mind-blowing and is truly inspirational to any budding game developer out there. The game is fun, visceral, fast, and challenging, although never to the point of frustration. Given that this is the first title released by Damage State, I truly cannot wait to learn what they are working on for their next title and I can see Scathe having a bright future in the FPS community.
Good
  • Graphically impressive.
  • Fast-paced, violent action.
  • Interesting gameplay mechanics.
Bad
  • It does borrow A LOT from DOOM.
  • Fighting endless waves of demons can get tiresome until a new gun or mechanic is discovered.
8
Great