Hey, have you heard of a game where you play a super soldier who goes to hell to kill everything that moves? One that involves swapping out exotic weapons to complete the ever-changing challenges presented by a persistent horde of twisted, meaty mutant Hellions? Well, Scathe isn’t exactly Doom. It tries its best, but lacks the handcrafted weapon-puzzle arenas and airtight weapon balancing that have turned first-person demon-slaying on its head for at least the last seven years. But what it lacks in polish, dynamism, and wit it makes up for with interesting but dull dungeon crawling and perhaps its biggest standout feature – co-op.
It might not be entirely fair to compare Scathe to Doom so directly. From a distance the similarities are obvious, but a few minutes with Scathe and it was clear I was playing a game with a completely different approach than the more famous first-person hell shooter. While id’s signature play is designed for you to be an unstoppable force in constant forward motion, Damage State’s setting requires a steadier hand as it’s the enemies running away me Low. They spawn aggressively, with ranged attackers filling the zone with projectiles akin to a bullet hell shooter like Ikaruga or Cuphead, and melee troops going straight for me or ambushing me behind or around corners.
Freezing to line up shots was a death sentence, but instead of charging through enemies like a possessed Doomguy, Scathe requires a much higher regard for personal safety. Health can only be reliably regained by picking up shiny orange Health Juice scattered across a certain room and can have limited availability. A lot of my engagements with the enemy have involved bombarding oncoming fire, strategically ducking around corners and obstacles, firing from afar with my default Super Rifle, taking out most enemies from at least medium range, and launching a small swarm of missiles over and over again frequently. Also, elusive enemies were great fodder for my longer range Thunderbolt, which could also bolt lightning between multiple baddies that dealt damage over time. The Ripper was my go-to for close encounters when I was pinned down and felt the horde encroaching on my personal space, or when I just desperately needed to storm my way through baddies’ blockade and my dashing attack was on cooldown. There’s even magic that can freeze towers or crush anyone in close proximity with a flick of the wrist. Scathe’s offensive options are numerous and varied.
In co-op mode, however, up to four players can walk through this gauntlet together. I couldn’t get more than one other person into the action during my demo. With the exception of the rooms where you have to kill a certain number of enemies before increasing your total, I didn’t notice any notable differences in enemy strength or number in co-op, so in a way the more friends you have bring with you into the fiery depths, the better. However, we shared a life pool, meaning you’re only as efficient as the deadlier individual in your squad.
The demonic legions were pretty much enough to keep me from my goal – navigating the maze of hell, collecting runes so I can unlock a boss room and obliterate what awaited me inside. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from large humanoid beasts to giant ogres that are aaof static, and even a sentient cloud of spikes that flies around in the ocean like a school of fish. They wield sinister bone blades, huge projectile cannons, or sometimes just throw their bouncing orbs at you. None are difficult to kill alone, but in endless waves they carve through your 10 life allotment quickly and efficiently. Luckily, everything you find is permanently found, except for health drops and ammo. This roguelite feature is great for runes, meaning you don’t have to go back after you die to pick up a room full of runes. However, this is bad for things like extra lives, making each time you have to pass through a room on the way to your objective an extra time that much more dangerous.
The maze itself is full of rooms, each marked with an icon. Memorizing the symbols can help you identify the rooms they connect to, but there’s nothing that will help you determine which direction you’re going. There is a map, but it’s very inconvenient to reach into the menu to consult between horde kills. Also, it only fills in rooms and how they connect after you’ve explored them and doesn’t mention any power-ups or weapons in them, so it’s very easy to miss valuable items because you didn’t know what you didn’t know.
The rooms themselves are at least interesting. There are many platforms and obstacles to navigate and put between you and the bad guys. Many rooms have platforming puzzles and switches that hide access to extra lives and other collectibles. The biomes of the rooms themselves also vary quite a bit, with some corners of the underworld being all fire and chains while others are dark and swampy. Aside from the aesthetics, they each also come with unique enemies that will force you to adjust your strategy a bit.
Scathe definitely proves there’s room in Hell for a first-person shooter that isn’t called Doom. Filling the screen with bullets to keep you on the defensive creates an interesting and completely different atmosphere than the outright aggression of the competition. While the running and shooting is enticing and solid, the map feels like purgatory to explore competently without any direction.
https://www.ign.com/articles/scathe-hands-on-preview-doom-ing-the-forces-of-hell Scathe Hands-On Preview: DOOM-ing the Forces of Hell