Playing Slain: Back from Hell is a lot like working out at the gym: you will test yourself, you will feel pain and real progress requires a lot of effort. Slain requires your full attention and even then most players will have difficulties. Clearly inspired by games such as Castlevania and Ghosts N’ Goblins, Slain: Back from Hell combines responsive controls with pesky enemies, environmental hazards and a whole lot of platelet-filled red stuff. Not all retro games are created equal in 2016, so how does Slain stack up?
Our story puts us in the shoes of Bathoryn, a long-haired head-banging death bringer who must defeat the evil Lord Vroll and clear the lands of his barbarism. Bathroyn wields a two handed sword for getting up close and personal along with ranged mana attacks. These attacks can be charged for more effectiveness, and sometimes weapon variations are acquired. Timing is crucial with blocking, parrying and reflecting enemy projectiles requiring precise button presses. Thankfully the controls are tight, which meant navigating enemies and hazards felt smooth when I got in the zone. Unfortunately, any time I was not 100% focused on the game, I would die. Slain is definitely the type of game you have to be in the mood to play to avoid frustration.
Dying is something you’re going to do a lot in Slain; thankfully the developer has some pity on you by providing ample checkpoints along with health and mana restorations. Some levels are mostly about combat; fighting enemies and avoiding traps until you face the boss. Other levels require more platforming with blood pits and traps that will instantly kill you. Regardless of the situation, any time I was distracted, I’d have no hope of completing the level. Texts from the wife? Dead. Holding a call from nature? Forget about it. Slain has no problems humbling the most experienced gamers if you aren’t patient and focused on the task at hand.
The pain and suffering is eased a lot by the graphics, art style and music in the game. Slain is an absolutely gorgeous 2d pixel style game with gothic inspiration. Many times I found myself just staring at the subtle movements of the environment or my character; it’s quite stunning. The soundtrack consists of heavy metal that fits surprisingly well with the gothic-style levels and head-banging protagonist. I personally enjoy rock and metal music so I loved the soundtrack, though it does loop so it can get repetitive if you go on a dying spree. Levels don’t take long to load and there is hardly any waiting when you die and restart. There aren’t any CGI sequences or voice acting, text boxes usher the story sequences after each level. As far as replay value goes there are hidden areas to find and a very challenging achievement list.
There is no doubt that Slain: Back from Hell is a polished, high-quality game; but it’s not for everybody. If you hate the sight of blood, you won’t like the art style. If you can’t stand metal music, you won’t enjoy the soundtrack. And if you prefer a run-and-gun style action game with easy difficulty, you really won’t enjoy Slain. Every time I died I felt more motivated to retry and make it to the next checkpoint. There wasn’t anyone to blame but myself because none of the deaths felt cheap. Impatience and recklessness will be your undoing; but when you succeed, the feelings of accomplishment are great. Old school action fans should give Slain: Back from Hell a long, hard look.
Slain: Back from Hell is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 & PC. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.