By: Brian Gunn
Slain is a game that launched under poor circumstances earlier this year. While many were attracted to its visual style, the game was buggy, combat felt dull and there were glaring issues like a lack of a final boss fight.
To their credit, the developers took in that feedback and recently re-launched it with a Back from Hell subtitle. Can they redeem the game’s reputation, or is it still something you’re better off ignoring?
Slain is a 2D side-scrolling hack n’ slash inspired by the likes of Castlevania. While you a basic melee attack combo serves as your bread and butter, there are also additional elements like perfectly timed blocks allowing devastating counterattacks and magic abilities to utilize.
Beyond that, there’s platforming to manage, though it’s often not the focus of the game as much as combat. Everything handles adequately for the most part, though basic attacks feel a little weightless and lack impact.
Clearly, the star of the show in Slain is the visuals. Heavy metal album covers were definitely a big inspiration. Everything’s adorned in skulls, spikes or flames, and enemies are of a nicely horrifying sort. My only knock against the graphics would be that there’s too much repetition with the enemies.
Your appreciation for the sound will depend on whether or not the idea of playing a heavy metal album cover as a game sounds good. There’s a lot of metal and hard rock on the soundtrack that fits very well, though it can get repetitive and won’t exactly earn new fans. Sound effects work out great for the most part, especially the satisfying perfect block effect.
Slain stars Bathoryn, a dead hero that’s been resurrected to fight evil forces that have taken over the world. OK, story isn’t a strong suit, with dialogue that often feels way too modern for the game’s Gothic setting. That being said, it is also thankfully pretty minor, and you’ll soon be on to stabbing various demons and monsters.
Level-based games that ape Castlevania are surprisingly rare these days, with most opting to go for the Metroidvania style of a larger world with tons of secrets. Slain is more old school in that regard and is mostly linear with secrets feeling rather minor. There is a hub world accessed after the first area that lets you tackle levels in various orders so you’re at least allowed a degree of freedom.
Difficulty is often the name of the game. There are loads of instant kill traps and deadly enemies that will make you rage and re-spawn at the nearest checkpoint. For the most part these checkpoints are fairly generous, though a couple levels could use some reworking.
Combat is largely fun, though it’s often the bigger enemies that are the highlight as they use most of the game’s mechanics, while smaller groups tend to require slogging through with quick attacks. One area Slain falters is offering meaningful upgrades. While you acquire new swords — such as one that does fire damage — they don’t feel different enough to use beyond enemies that are specifically weak to their specialty (i.e. fire).
Of course, it’s hard to talk about this game without noting the many changes. As someone that played it both at launch and after the Back from Hell update, there has been a substantial upgrade. Checkpoints saving the game rather than beating levels, the various combat adjustments and enemy placement changes, and even tweaks like adding scan-line options have made it worth coming back to if you purchased it early and felt burned.
Slain: Back from Hell traveled a rough road to get here, but it has arrived at being a pretty worthy game these days. It still has a few issues, but with the groundwork laid here it feels like a sequel could end up being truly special.