“Through me you go into a city of weeping, through me you go into eternal pain, through me you go among the lost people.” – Dante Alighieri, The Inferno
Developer: Damage State
Released: 31st August 2022
- Fast-paced, high-stakes combat where (on higher difficulties) even the smallest mistake means a gruesome death.
- Each weapon feels distinct, with a precise role and useful secondary fire modes that can turn around a fight.
- Mostly well-designed bosses that feel like a real challenge… barring some exceptions.
- Solid art direction that depicts an eye-catching hellish labyrinth. Top-notch visuals, plenty of gore and explosions.
- Severe balance problems with weapons, spells and general ammo economy.
- Low number of enemy archetypes: most are recolors/reskins, thus making combat repetitive not after long.
- Tremendously annoying exploration/backtracking mechanics that lead to severe content bloating for no reason whatsoever.
- Annoying announcers that constantly spam repetitive voice lines, lazily describing your exploits or throwing uninteresting lore facts. Repetitive soundtrack that gets stale fast.
- Extremely disappointing finale that feels rushed, anticlimactic and just cheap.
Bugs & Issues
- Rarely, arenas may get stuck even with all enemies killed.
- Severe FPS drops in specific levels even on a high-end machine.
- Subtitles and voice lines may glitch and occur at the wrong time or overlap.
- 32GB RAM
Content & Replay Value
It took me around 12 hours to complete Scathe on Hard difficulty, taking extra time to visit all areas, collect all weapons/spells and also all the runes I could find. Since most of the content is always the same except for some minor random factors, I see no reason to replay once finished.
Is It Worth Buying?
Not right now. Even if the price is okay for this amount of content (on paper, at least), the actual issues simply don’t make Scathe a game worth your time in the current state. Perhaps one day, if such a time ever comes after patches and fixes.
Despite intense combat and good foundations, Scathe doesn’t manage to escape the Hell of mediocrity; balance issues, game design mishaps and annoying bugs reduce it to a mediocre FPS experience.
Scathe – In-Depth Analysis
Premise, Setting & Writing
In a realm beyond, an eternal battle rages between the Divine Creator and his brother Sacrilegious. Scathe, the Divine’s chosen, is sent to a hellish labyrinth with the final aim of stealing a powerful staff, that would break the balance between the two gods and finally allow the Divine to reign supreme.
The Labyrinth is divided into zones belonging to three major biomes: Nature, Industrial and Temple. Each is well-diversified, and every stage is unique in layout with a few surprises here and there, visually-appealing. Even so, the levels don’t really have distinctive landmarks in the majority of cases, many will feel like ‘already-seen’.
Aside from a demon encyclopedia, there isn’t any additional writing or lore to mention, except some sparse information coming from the two announcers (the Divine and his brother) that will frequently speak in Scathe’s head – and become quite annoying too, given their limited roster of lines and rarely-interesting topics.
Exploration & Secrets
In each level there will be one thing above all to look for: Runes. These collectables will be fundamental to unlock the six Guardian Doors around the map, each housing an Hellstone that acts as a key to open the exit of the Labyrinth. Most levels have six runes, some in plain sight, others hidden behind secret areas reachable with jumping puzzles or by activating hidden switches. Other than that, there will be some sparse ammo caches for your weapons, health pickups, and sometimes Dark Relics that grant Scathe spell rings to keep and use.
The world map is divided in zones linked to each other by exits, and here comes the worst problem with Scathe: backtracking. To move between levels you’ll need to remember where each exit is located (for 49 levels!), then navigate the premises fighting or dodging enemies that respawn every time (even in 100% cleared levels) and mandatory arenas that won’t let you through until everyone inside is dead.
This becomes a huge issue when you encounter a place or boss too hard (or inaccessible) for you, reach other parts of the map to gain weapons and spells, only to then have to go through a dozen already-cleared stages again to go back. If you run out of lives, you’ll respawn in the last visited special room, and that may mean re-doing multiple levels once more. Ever heard of fast travel, devs?
Combat System & Progression
Fast-paced and high-stakes, the foundation of Scathe’s combat brings everything you would want from an FPS/Bullet Hell hybrid; just a few hits on Hard are all it takes for you to die, thankfully you have ten lives, each allowing you to respawn on the spot – and trust me, that may seem a lot but it’s not (except in boss fights, where it’s actually excessive); death is fast, brutal and common. You’ll bring around the base machine gun with infinite ammo, generally an all-purpose solution, other than other specialized guns. Shotguns, crossbows and laser rifles that each feature powerful primary and secondary fire modes, but also have finite ammo that is generally in scarce quantities due to less-than-ideal economy.
You’d think these weapons would be very powerful to have such limited ammo drops and reserves going on, but that’s usually not the case: they’re better than the base one but not a whole other level. The ammo economy is so bad I dealt with most bosses and enemies using only the basic gun, make what you will of it. The fact enemy archetypes are low in number, and that each biome mostly features recolors that are mechanically identical, makes the combat become stale rather fast, especially with all the forced backtracking involved.
Your abilities will be fundamental, above all the Dash that allows Scathe to plow through enemies, killing all but the strongest ones instantly, briefly deny bullet damage or make longer jumps while mid-air. Spell rings will allow the casting of magic such as healing, AoE damage and more; each of them is fueled by mana gained from killing enemies and gathering the shards they drop after defeat. The issue with all this is balance yet again, with more than half the rings being gimmicks and a few of them being instead really overpowered.
Special Levels & Bosses
The first special level you’ll come across will be Arenas, requiring you to kill a certain number of mobs for all the exits to unlock, and stay unlocked forever after that. Not to be confused with mini-arenas present in normal levels, which work in the same way, just smaller in scale and respawning each time a transition happens. Weapon rooms are devoid of enemies and grant you a new murder tool, while Boss rooms can only be accessed with a certain total number of Runes and are self-explanatory.
The three major and three minor boss fights are of inconsistent quality and difficulty. Some are boring circle-strafe fests, other ones legitimately good, and some feel like a bullet sponge fest. Not to make spoilers, but there actually won’t be a proper final boss beyond the final gate… something different instead, that for most players will prove a letdown.