Due to arrive on Steam on July 16th, S.C.A.R. (Simulating Carnage & Rockets) is a fast-paced horde shooter akin to the likes of Painkiller, Serious Sam and Will Rock. The debut project from Savage Studios, this first-person foray into the industry is a very exciting one, and will undoubtedly capture the attention of the many old-school shooter fans the world over. It’s a game I knew that I would love almost immediately after coming across it, and a game I wish lived up to that in its current state.
There’s not really much of a story to S.C.A.R. and there doesn’t really need to be. You go through a giant glowing portal and blast monsters and aliens in the face until you find an exit. It’s a simple premise, and this allows the developers to put a lot more emphasis on where it counts – the gameplay. There’s currently only one level in the Early Access release, but this could take you anywhere between 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your run-through.
Gameplay consists of navigating your way through corridors, as well as large, open, multi-tiered rooms. In order to enter the next room, or progress past the next door, you usually need to kill every enemy that spawns in the current area. If you’ve played any of the Serious Sam games, you should be familiar with this type of gameplay loop.
Savage Studios didn’t just want to create a Serious Sam clone though. I mean, sure, we’ve seen Croteam’s series, as well as Painkiller garner quite the fan following, but these are not the majority within the genre. Titles like Nitro Family, Vivisector: The Beast Within and Putrefaction really didn’t perform to the same level, despite all three being excellent titles in their own right. S.C.A.R. features a grappling hook, which allows you to Tarzan around the levels to your heart’s content, all whilst shotgunning baddies in the face. This inclusion makes the game feel Bionic Commando-esque, and fans of Dying Light and Just Cause will also feel right at home with the mechanic.
That’s not all S.C.A.R. has going for it though, as a horde shooter wouldn’t be a horde shooter without some huge foes to test your mettle at the end of each level. The current version of the game has two of these boss fights, and they’re pretty bada**. The first of these battles is very polished, with the player needing to take out generators to be able to damage the boss beyond a certain point. It takes place in a small, but multi-levelled arena, and there are masses of minions gunning for you here too, so it’s a really intense section.
The second boss fight is against a giant tentacle monster and just feels as though it needs a bit more work. Looking around the arena for this battle, it’s evident there are a few ways to take the boss down, but they just don’t compare to strafe-jumping in front of its big ugly face whilst blasting away with your rocket launcher.
S.C.A.R. does have some absolutely wonderful gameplay, and at its core, the game is fun. That’s what is important to me in the genre. It’s a game I can easily recommend for its visceral combat and exhilarating gunplay, but that’s not all there is to Savage Studios’ game at this point. There are a few issues that I have with the game that prevent it from quite being the fully-rounded experience I want it to be, and one of the biggest issues affects one of the game’s biggest selling points – the pacing.
Shooters of old prided themselves on a lack of hand-holding. You used to have to figure things out for yourself, you had to remember where you’d been, deduce where to go next – so on and so forth. This greatly added to the immersion, even when looking at titles from other genres, such as Morrowind – you had to remember directions given to you once in dialogue block that a lot of people probably skipped over and then regretted doing so. Since those days, you usually have quest markers or waypoint arrows, perhaps someone always telling you where to go. This isn’t a bad thing all the time, BioShock used it well. S.C.A.R. doesn’t pride itself on the lack of hand-holding, but it doesn’t really work all that well.
The moment you fire up S.C.A.R., you are thrust into a hub world – and in said hub world is a path ahead of you that takes you to your first mission. Somewhere off the beaten path, that isn’t really very recognizable as such, is the movement tutorial. You have to seek this out, and it’s very easy to miss. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but at one point in the game, I found myself at a broken door, unable to crouch under it and unable to return the way I’d come into the room. I was completely stuck. After 10 mins of walking back and forth, reloading to find out if something hadn’t dropped from an enemy that was supposed to – I came to the realization that you had to in fact slide under this doorway.
Savage Studios could circumvent issues like this by having a prompt system in place if you’re waiting somewhere for too long, an in-level tutorial – or even just a menu option to take you there before you begin blasting away.
I also took some issue with the enemies, as on a number of occasions I couldn’t move to the next room because an enemy would be hidden out of sight due to the nature of the level design. An enemy would be standing still on the bottom of a room, and I would be around the top unable to find it for quite some time. Don’t get me wrong, I love how the levels are almost vertical in design – it’s really cool and almost like an upside-down Hellver/Downwell, the issue is that you end up playing hide and seek with enemies far too often.
Savage Studios have confirmed that they will be working hard to refine and expand the game, and hope to release a full version in December 2020. S.C.A.R. really does have a lot going for it, and you should keep an eye on it if you’re a fan of this kind of FPS, we don’t get them often so it’s always a treat when they do come out. Whilst there is some room for improvement, I am confident in Savage Studios, and I believe that S.C.A.R. will be a game easy to recommend in a few months’ time. As it stands at the moment, and like most titles that release through Steam’s Early Access – you need to be in for the long haul to jump on board at this stage.
In conclusion, S.C.A.R. is a lot of fun. It does some things that’ll tap into your nostalgia for Serious Sam and Painkiller, and it does some things that stand out as fresh and innovative. It’s a really cool lesson in level design and it’s gloriously violent. If S.C.A.R. sounds like something you’d be in to – check it out here on Steam.
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