Slain: Back From Hell Review
Can Slain prove it’s a cut above or does it drown in a sea of bloody cliches?
What's more metal than a game where you are revived from the dead to battle demonic legions with a massive sword? How about a game where you're revived from the dead to battle demonic legions, with a massive sword, to music by Curt Victor Bryant, formerly of Celtic Frost?
Now we're talking.
The result is Slain: Back To Hell, a retro-styled platform adventure game with more blood and gore than you can shake a newly-severed limb at.
Slain: Back From Hell looks very much like classic Castlevania. The 16-bit style visuals evoke platforming action from the Megadrive and SNES days and the gameplay is inspired by that era too.
It’s actually a re-launch of the game. At the initial launch the game was a hot mess of missing features and broken gameplay. This version is fixed and fully-patched and presented entirely as developer Wolfbrew Games had originally intended.
It may look like a Castlevania game that's been fished out of Dracula's chalice but it plays more like the bastard child of Ghouls 'n' Ghosts and Dark Souls. It's intensely tough. Much of the blood that you see will be your character, Bathoryn, exploding, suffering dismemberment, bursting into flames or melting into a puddle of green goo because you've failed to survive through to the next checkpoint.
Metal courses through Slain's pixelated veins. It sure as hell isn't blood though because that is everywhere else. It's coating skeleton warriors. It's lurking in pools ready to strangle anything – that means you – that falls in. And, whenever something dies, it explodes in a vile sanguine mist. In case I hadn't made myself clear, it's damned bloody.
But blood isn't everything. Ever since Doom arrived in the early nineties there have been games that have hidden their lack of gameplay behind oceans of gore (we’re looking at you Dead Island).
Slain starts out pretty light on the platforming. It takes you on a journey through some spooky woods inhabited by skeleton warriors and man-sized rat monsters with hooks for hands. As you delve deeper into the brooding gothic world, switches, secret doors and moving platforms all work their way into the levels, adding a bit more depth to the bland platforming from the opening section. There’s very little of the Castlevania-style exploration which is a bit of a bummer if I’m totally honest. Straight action platformers are fine but Slain lacks the pace that makes games like Metal Slug or Strider so compelling.
It’s pretty challenging too. The Ghouls ‘n Ghosts influence really starts to shine through. Slain is all about hacking and slashing your way from save checkpoint to save checkpoint. Each one replenishes health and magic energy, so you can make it to the next checkpoint or the end of the level. Die and you’re thrust back to the last checkpoint as if in some kind of gaming purgatory. And it’s a tough game, so play consists of revive, fight, die, repeat. Grinding your way from checkpoint to checkpoint.
Occasionally there are bosses (as is mandatory in video games) like a massive psychotic tree that hurls balls of thorns at you and they present a nicely judged step-up in challenge. The best payoff from these though is the swirling hair mosh celebration that Bathoryn wheels out. It's a nifty wee touch that adds a bit more character to the game.
Curt Victor Bryant’s soundtrack is decent and breathes the kind of sinister character that complements the gameplay very well. As time wears on though, it relies all too heavily on old-fashioned metal cliches and becomes tiresome. Especially so as each level’s track is fairly short and repeats constantly as you die over and over again.
As a huge fan of Slain’s main influences: Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and Castlevania, I desperately wanted to like the game. The problem is that, with all the blood and the metal soundtrack, Slain feels like it’s trying too hard. I’d like to get more angry about it all but Slain sits so firmly and competently in the middle of the road that it’s hard to work up anything more than a mildly disappointed “meh”. Once the blood starts to congeal and the tinnitus from the heavy riffage starts to fade Slain feels more bland and mechanical than a Dragonforce album.
Slain: Back From Hell is out now to download on Windows PC via your friendly neighbourhood Steam client. It’s heading to PS4 on September 13th and Xbox One on October 5th. A PS Vita version is also in the works due for release later in the autumn.