Scathe is an intense, blood-soaked bullet-hell FPS by three-person development team Damage State and published by Kwalee. The game released on PC via Steam and Epic Games Store on August 31, 2022 and will come to consoles in early 2023. I previewed the game last month where we play as Scathe, Enforcer of the legions of Hell, forged from the earth by the Divine Creator themself. We must explore a maze of varying zone types, slaying hordes of monsters as we work to find new weapons, dark magic, loot runes and eventually obtain six hellstones that are guarded by the highest order demons.
Scathe is a bullet-hell FPS, and if you’ve played any 2D side scrolling bullet-hell games, you will know you need to be constantly aware of your position as well as avoiding oncoming fire. Scathe is a first-person shooter so it’s easy to see the bullets coming at you, but not so easy to dodge all of them. In the preview, monsters would start to shoot at me as soon as they see me, even if they were far in the distance. This has changed in the full release where they will only start firing at you when you’re about two firing lengths away. This gives you time to assess your angle of attack, though often you’re on a tight and narrow walkway or cave entrance and have no choice but to charge at them.
Through your journey in Scathe, you will find various weapons and dark magic rings that will help to increase your power and give you some diversity. The first weapon you obtain, the Hell Hammer automatic rifle. It has unlimited ammo, so it becomes your most reliable weapon. It is not as strong as the others nor as accurate, but you can spray and pray with confidence that it will take out most of the grunt monsters in your path. Turrets are a major pain, particularly when surrounded by flying monsters. It’s best to find the freeze ring as soon as possible as this was the best defence in my playthrough.
Dark magic rings vary from the freeze ring, to one that heals, one that will put you into rage mode where enemies are highlighted and you move super-fast, but that one uses all your stored souls in one use. Souls are obtained by killing enemies and most of the time your soul meter will be full. There’s a pistol you can find that will dual wield with your primary weapon that is particularly useful against the flying enemies. The healing ring is great as a top up heals as healing powerups are few and far between, and they are especially scarce during mini boss battles.
As there are six hellstones to collect in Scathe, they are all guarded by a mini boss. These range from in size and combat strategies, but generally you will have fought enemies with similar mechanics on your way to those bosses. Thankfully most of the rooms they are in have cover you can use, at least one health powerup, and plenty of space. Learning their mechanics was easy so don’t let their size put you off. The bigger they are, the harder they blow the heck up.
The music played constantly in last month’s preview, so I was pleased that the one track they use had breaks in between. Though it was sometimes too quiet, so I won’t complain about that music balance. It’s a killer track and suits the gameplay perfectly. Weapons sound decent and explosions rock you when they go off close by. Sound comes in handy as, especially in the temples where you must kill 40 demons which keep spawning faster and faster. While running and gunning, trying to survive, the sounds of each enemy’s attack is distinctive so I knew if I heard gunfire of their spawn in sound, I could focus my fire on the more difficult or more damaging ones first.
Monsters spawn in at some weird times in Scathe. As you start a new room, you will come across a steady flow of monsters, however sometimes I would be moving forward after clearing an area and monsters will just spawn in front of me out of nowhere. What’s worse though is some would often respawn behind me even though I was thorough in clearing the area. I ended up having a tactic of running forward only so far, stopping and letting the new set of monsters spawn in. It was a little jarring, but I adjusted to this style of leap frogging between spawn groups.
My best piece of advice for new players is to learn the map icons. All map icons will have a number of red dots at their edges, and these indicate possible pathways. When you find a doorway to a new area, check the map first to make sure it’s the way you want to go. Early on you will just want to run through and have fun wrecking everything in your path. When you mouseover a map icon, you will see icons indicating if the room has a new weapon, a dark magic ring or a hellstone. It can get confusing but it’s a cool way to do a game map and it’s certainly not linear.
Overall, Scathe is an awesome bullet-hell FPS that’s brutal at times and punishing at others, but death is a learning experience. Learning the map icons early and plotting paths to hellstones is your best bet, as well as grabbing some new weapons to diversify your arsenal. The game runs super smooth considering the fast-paced action and the music track is perfectly suited for the action.
This review utilised a Steam key provided by Mark Allen PR on behalf of Kwalee. Scathe is available now on PC via Steam and Epic Games Store and console versions will follow in early 2023.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis