Title: Slain: Back From Hell
Available On: PC, Mac
Developer: Wolfbrew Games
Publisher: Digerati Distribution
Genre: Action, Platformer
Official Site: http://www.wolfbrewgames.com/slain/
Release Date: 25 March 2016
Where to Buy: Steam
If you like heavy metal, old school 2D side-scrollers and masochism, then Slain: Back from Hell is the blood-soaked action-packed frustrata-thon for you. Offering unending, unforgiving challenge, anyone who enjoys a steep learning curve and the satisfaction of overcoming it should be a great fan of this new title from Wolfbrew Games.
Action is the name of the game in Slain: Back from Hell and it certainly doesn’t mess around in throwing you into the thick of it. The plot can be surmised in four words: Kill demons, save world. Players take on the role of Bathoryn, a Gothic hero with a penchant for long hair, headbanging, and violence, not always necessarily in that order. This doomed saviour of the world is called to eliminate the demonic threat that is plaguing six realms, lest mankind be reduced to mere slaves or, even worse, undead servants.
Along the way you’ll find skeletons, witches, fiery dogs, thorny demons and other denizens of the underworld; all of whom prefer to greet their heroic guests with a claw to the face rather than a handshake. The overseers of these realms are no better, each providing a unique boss battle that will kill you even more frequently than their underlings. The death screen will become a familiar sight on your journey, and every checkpoint will come as a relief.
Slain: Back from Hell is difficult. There is no doubt about that. The blood-soaked realms that you are sent to save don’t make it easy on you and even the easiest of enemies are more than capable of putting you in the ground. The environments are also out to murder you, and many first-time attempts will result in players falling victim to one of many hidden traps. You will have to hone your platforming skills to a keen edge as well, as progress is often tied to your ability to navigate multiple moving platforms while simultaneously beating back enemies at the same time.
However, that isn’t to say Barthoryn is some weak-willed, weak-armed kitten. Armed with an enormous two-handed blade that would make Cloud blush, players will find that Slain: Back from Hell‘s combat is visceral, bloody and extremely reliant on good timing. Blocking an enemy attack at just the right moment results in a stun and a subsequent critical hit, while various enemy projectiles can be thrown right back in their faces – assuming you are capable of timing your strikes correctly.
Bolts of magical energy are also at your command, and can offer a reprieve from the constant hand-to-hand combat, but mana is a precious commodity and can only be restored either by reaching the next checkpoint or killing an enemy in a way that is most pleasing to the Metal God. That is, scoring a critical hit or a charged strike, both of which require utmost timing from the player to execute properly. If you are too slow (or too quick) on the draw, you will fail and likely be brutally murdered for your efforts.
In a game so heavily focused on timing, I was slightly irritated to find out how unwieldy the controls can be. There are four major moves you can make in Slain: Back from Hell; attack with your magic, attack with your sword, block and dodge backwards. Each of these are bound to the Q, W, E and R keys respectively. Perhaps it is merely inexperience on my part, but I found this set up to be very confusing. MOBA aficionados will likely have no trouble at all adapting, but there was something very non-fluid about striking with the sword using my ring finger. Your experience may vary.
That being said, I can certainly see this being a game that takes to a controller like a duck to water, and it does indeed have controller support. However, for whatever reason, my gamepad wasn’t recognised, and as such I can’t give you a good opinion on how well it translates. The game is coming to consoles later this year (13 September for PS4, 5 October for Xbox One), and I suspect the control scheme will be a lot more well-received on these devices.
Controls aside, let’s look at the graphics. Bloody, gory, pixelated goodness is how I would describe Slain: Back from Hell’s art style. Various bodily fluids are heavily overrepresented – though what would you expect from a heavy-metal-inspired video game, with a distinctive gothic style backing up those few areas that aren’t covered in blood. It’s not what I would call beautiful exactly, but it certainly is in keeping with the feel of the game, and that is much more of a point in its favour.
The soundtrack is a particular highlight, with big, meaty riffs helping to drive the game onward. Adding this heavy rhythm to a timing-based game was definitely a good move, and helps to keep the combat and platforming sections fluid. It can become a little overbearing after a long gaming session, but to be honest you will tire of dying before you tire of this soundtrack. The fact that it was specially recorded by Curt Victor Bryant (formally of Celtic Frost) only helps with the strong musical pedigree.
Overall, I think Slain: Back from Hell is a solid effort from the crew at Wolfbrew Games. While it could do with a little bit of a spruce up with its controls, it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. A gory, bloody, driving and difficult game that is easy to pick up but almost impossible to master. Whether you’re after something with a great soundtrack, a high difficulty curve or just want to see a retro-inspired game with a modern twist, I can recommend this title to anyone who wants to please the Great Horned Metal God – though you may want to put a hole in your screen by the time you do it.
Gameplay: Fast-paced, timing-heavy, extremely difficult combat.
Graphics: Enough blood to make a vampire start hyperventilating.
Sound: Heavy metal soundtrack driving the action.
Presentation: Controls could be better, but overall a solid (if frustrating) game.
- True retro throwback
- Very few bugs
- Bloody, visceral combat
- Fantastic metal soundtrack
- Unique world
- Can be frustrating without cause
- Controls are a bit wonky
- Quite short