I love arena shooters. Whether we’re tearing our foes limb from limb or hurling down corridors like a child on a runaway shopping cart, arena shooters fulfill our primal urges for high-octane violence and SPEED!
Games like DOOM, ULTRAKILL, and Dusk have all catered to our violent whims and inspired a vast collection of spinoffs with different premises or enhanced gameplay. The indie game that we’re going to focus in this Scathe PC review, a new addition to the growing trend, flings us into the depths of Hell, forcing us to explore the labyrinthine underworld and send Satan packing.
However, Scathe differs in its emphasis on first-person bullet-hell survival, reminiscent of Returnal, and its everlasting maze system, akin to Hollow Knight. Finding Satan requires extensive scouting, decision-making, and backtracking. For those looking to get lost, scared, and trapped in the bowels of Hell, you’ll feel right at home with Scathe.
Simple and easy to pick up, Scathe’s emphasis on gunplay and speed carries the game’s pace. I relished the explosive delight of unleashing shotgun mines and fire spells upon foes begging for a dismembering BBQ.
While we can take our time combing each section for ammo and collectibles, players that want to rush through the area are free to slide through demons and mow down foes in a righteous charge.
We only have to watch out for the bullet-hell nature of the game’s challenge. While we’re free to shoot, dodge, and dash through enemies, getting swarmed by foes’ slow-moving, high-damage bullets can quickly render us into pulp if we get too reckless.
Luckily with Scathe’s life system, we can afford to be overzealous without much punishment.
Additionally, discovering new weapons rewards the completionist in us with a mighty arsenal that obliterates foes into a blood-red mist of gore and severed appendages.
These weapons and spells have a great feel and were a most welcome addition to the game’s lightning-fast combat. While I could never expect where I would find them, shotgunning foes with increased zeal was a welcome addition to every combat encounter.
A Hellish Maze
Unfortunately, the game’s pace significantly slows down once the maze-like structure of Hell forces us to backtrack and repeat several sections, looking for the proper way to proceed.
While this feature would be novel for encouraging exploration, the several areas where we’re locked into a room and forced to kill 60 enemies before proceeding becomes tedious, then dull as we wait for enemies to spawn in.
Although only a few rooms are like this, reaching a dead end and having to backtrack several times can make these rooms stand out for full completionists.
While I understand the thrill of uncovering unexplored pathways and discovering secrets, Scathe would benefit from a limited kind of fast travel section to skip its dull moments and spend more time in new locations with exciting enemies.
To its credit, discovering new weapons and spells quickens the pace of combat and enables us to get through old areas in record time. I just wish I had some hint as to where I could find these abilities on the main map from the onset.
A Colorful Cast of Demons
Dark, gory, and not suitable for children, Scathe excels in crafting a demented underworld crawling with cyber-demonic denizens of every size and shape.
The vast enemy variety cultivates a primal fear and grim curiosity towards foes with miniguns jutting out of their mouths and disgusting appendages that keep you guessing. Getting to a new area and discovering a new kind of strange foe was perhaps my favorite part of this trip through Hell and helped keep every zone distinct.
Unfortunately, the environment can feel somewhat repetitive over time. Combing through blood-red corridors brimming with lava gets old after the fifth zone, and the cramped hallways get in the way of Scathe’s grand scale.
Luckily there is enough variety to appreciate when the level opens up into verdant green-purple fungal wasteland and flips the overall red-grey color scheme on its head. While I understand the intent to make Hell a scary, evil location, I enjoyed Scathe more as a strange mixture between a mental asylum, fungal wasteland, and cult lair.
Death Metal March to Victory
Heralding our violent crusade into the depths of Hell is an uninterrupted Viking death metal song with few breaks and no mercy. While this track is far from sweet, the guttural intonations and creepy breathing are perfect for selling the horrors of the underworld.
Although most English speakers won’t understand the lyrics (I doubt I ever will), it’s easy to comprehend the music’s malicious intent and hard to withhold our growing bloodlust from nearby demons.
However, sounds of screaming demons punctuating the music can often disturb the carefully crafted violent atmosphere. While these sounds are excellent indicators of demon type and location, having a dozen of the spike balls screaming at you Serious Sam style becomes nauseating.
Although I appreciated the tactical advantage in combat, I would have been satisfied muting the spike balls or replacing their default sound with a bowling ball.
A Sprinkling of Narrative
For the vast majority of its playthrough, Scathe doesn’t lean on narrative aspects too heavily. Aside from the opening cinematic of God tasking us to smite Hell, there is a drastic lack of characters and dialogue to keep us company.
Although we learn our character is named Scathe, shocking I know, our personal motivations for serving God, backstory, and favorite foods and hobbies remain a mystery.
However, the environmental storytelling cultivates curiosity over the fungally overgrown locale with steampunk elements and ritualistic sacrifice.
While we can write this off as Hell being Hell, the presence of asylum rooms and auto turrets makes you wonder what kind of facility this place was before its corruption or even question the pseudo-supernatural setting.
I personally like to think that the forces of Hell dedicated most of their finances to military R&D and absolutely nothing to their resident’s mental wellbeing.
Overall, having no story for Scathe is fine. This is an arena shooter; we don’t need a reason to kill demons or blow up enemies. Scathe knows its players want fast-paced action and gritty gameplay over longwinded story moments. Having the player sit through cutscenes or skim through journal entries would detract from our hellish adventure.
Dumbed Down Demons
While our demonic foes may look like cyber-augmented superhuman killing machines, their behavior is closer to brain-dead stormtroopers. Many enemies are content with lining up in a single file line or running into killing zones after 20 of their friends have perished in front of them.
While this is a detriment to having realistic, believable demons, exploiting this behavior enables us to deliver well-placed explosive rounds that send foes flying and make them fun enemies to fight.
The saving grace would be the flying enemies that excel in evading our attacks and punish us from afar. I found myself running from these creatures whenever I was locked in a room with them, and I suggest you do too!
Overall, I can’t fault Scathe for having less than stellar AI if I enjoyed taking advantage of their intelligence deficiency for epic combat finishers. If dumb AI is fun, the developers have succeeded in making a great game.
Send Your Friends to Hell
Scathe’s charm can wear thin alone if we’re going through the same levels we’ve fought through countless times. Luckily we can grab friends or find some online to liven the trek through Hell.
Both being able to confuse enemies and obliterate challenge rooms, playing through Scathe with others is like the DOOM co-op experience we never knew we wanted.
I recommend getting a friend to try the demo beforehand to see if their pc is up to the task. Scathe is a far more demanding arena shooter than its other indie counterparts like Ultrakill or Dusk. Convincing your best friend to purchase a game they can’t play properly can lead to fatal fights that would make a cyber demon blush.
Still, I heartily recommend Scathe’s multiplayer if you’ve got adequate internet speed and at least the social skills of a grunting caveman. Taking part in the righteous crusade against Hell only gets better with more friends by our side.
Alternatives Bloodfests for Consideration
If I’m being brutally honest, Scathe’s level design isn’t for everyone. Having to backtrack through levels several times over looking for a new exit can be exhausting, and for players expecting a linear experience, Scathe may not be your cup of tea.
Instead, I recommend several other games with faster-paced combat, linear-level design, or retro-style graphics. While some of these look drastically different to Scathe, their overall feeling as arena shooters is strong enough to match its high-velocity gameplay. Here are a few similar titles listed below:
- DOOM 2016
- DOOM: Eternal
- Killing Floor 2
- Serious Sam
- Ready or Not
Overall Pros and Cons
- Cathartic Gunplay
- Vast Enemy Variety
- Rewarding Exploration
- No Tutorial for Confusing Mechanics
- Repeating the Same Sections is Boring
- Combat Gets Old Without New Weapons
Question: When Does Scathe Release?
Answer: Scathe releases on August 31st, although a free demo and beta are presently available. I recommend trying the demo if you’re still on the fence about Scathe or want to ensure your computer can run it well enough.
Question: How Long Does Scathe Take to Finish?
Answer: Scathe can take 5-7 hours to beat depending on player skill level and luck while exploring. However, going for full completion can easily add four more hours to our trek through Hell.
Question: Can I Beat Scathe with Friends?
Answer: Yes, Scathe is fully playable with friends or random guests online. Starting a multiplayer game, however, resets the save file you’re currently on. I recommend delegating one save file to single player and two to co-op.
Scathe PC Review: Verdict/Score
All in all, Scathe excels in creating an explosive journey through Hell. With phenomenal gunplay and diverse enemies, the moment-to-moment experiences in combat sell this game as a solid arena shooter through a carefully crafted underworld.
While I was not too fond of backtracking and combing each zone for the exit to the next level, the rewards for exploration made the trek back worthwhile.
Still, I can’t forgive Scathe for trapping me in a room for 10 minutes because it struggled to spawn the last enemy. While I think these issues will disappear after a few bug fixes, they dampened what should have been an unrestricted joyride through Hell.
Overall, I’m looking forward to braving the horrors of Hell again with friends at my side when Scathe releases on August 31st. The horrors of Hell are going to have a new foe to fear.
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