Slain: Back From Hell is a side-scrolling action game set to a heavy metal aesthetic. As I downloaded the game, I was initially put off by the cover art. Little did I expect the visuals to pop on-screen as well as they. Nor did I know just how enjoyable the moment-to-moment gameplay would pan out, accompanied by a hard-as-hell soundtrack. Find out about Bathoryn’s journey to take down Vroll in our full Slain: Back From Hell Review.
Look and Feel
I don’t know much about metal. Don’t eat it. That is the extent of my knowledge. I can, however, appreciate this lively-yet-haunting visual style. Slain openly admits to being inspired by heavy metal. It seeks to capture the feel, and it’s safe to say it accomplishes that. Parts of the world overflow with blood-red streams, whilst others are snow-capped mountains of skulls. The names of the characters and the white-haired, mega-bearded protagonist all lend themselves to the overall style that’s remarkably well-done.
More than anything, I was impressed with the hero’s sprite. The way his hair and cape flow in the wind as the player traverses the side-scrolling landscape: unexpectedly detailed.
The soundtrack hits the mark throughout too. I may not be an avid heavy metal fan, but I know when a game’s music fits its tone. It doesn’t miss a beat. Particularly The Wolfswood area.
There’s a minor issue I have with the game. It’s only for a moment, to be honest. In Old Town. There’s a heavy snow-storm. Snow-flakes float down across the screen. Beautiful, right? Perhaps, but it has a tendency to block enemy movement cues. Given that a major mechanic is to parry and counter, the occasional bit of snow messing up your timing can be annoying. I encountered this issue twice at best, so it’s hardly game-impacting, but that’s that.
Bathoryn is awoken from his eternal slumber to save the world from the tyranny of Vroll. In a game that could have easily leaned on the brilliance of its gameplay, to see an engaging story included is a real plus.
As Bathoryn progresses, he encounters a few lively friends as well as foes, each with their own motivations. If I were to have an issue with the plot, it’s that some of these threads aren’t wrapped up. Even remotely.
That said, there’s a lot of detail in the screens before entering areas about that place’s history. The writing is well done and drew me in to the characters themselves. There’s no voice acting, but it doesn’t really need it.
In the interest of keeping this review spoiler-free, I’ll just say that’ it’s absolutely worth finishing this game for the ending.
The short version: Slain’s gameplay is awesome in its simplicity. It’s a side-scrolling action game where victory depends on your knowledge of enemy attack patterns. That moment when you finally get past a flame-shield skeleton after dying 20 times in a row is as rewarding in the moment as any other gaming experience.
The Nuts and Bolts
At first, Slain appears simple. There’s one primary attack button with a charge version if the button is held. A defend action that can parry enemy attacks with very precise timing. A magical shot than can be charged for extra damage at the cost of more mana. This magical shot can only be fired in a straight line. Your character has the ability to jump and crouch, with the crouch featuring its only magical attack that can wipe out a crowd at the cost of the mana bar at full.
After a few basic skeletons that can be taken down through standard attacks, the player will soon come across larger, more impactful enemies that aren’t staggered by the usual combination. At this point, learning the enemy visual cue for when to parry their attack is vital to your progress. Whether it’s a maul-wielding stone statue or a flaming boar that spits fire your way, the parry followed by the charge-attack seems to be the best way to engage.
Die. Die. Dead? Yep. Dead.
Slain is a difficult game. With no upgrade or progression system in place, the entirety of a player’s ability to complete Slain depends on skill. The learning process of attack patterns results in many a death, but Slain throws you right back in to the action. Deaths are followed by a short “SLAIN” screen, as if to rub it in slightly, and you’re back within a second, starting from the last checkpoint. Checkpoints are fairly placed for the most part, so not a great deal of progress is lost on character death. The system in place encourages trial and error, rather than discouraging players due to difficulty and lengthy re-runs.
Wish You Were Here
There are a few things I wish Slain had that would have given the gameplay a bit more variety. One such thing is a more meaningful change to the weapons. Using the right stick (on Playstation 4) allows you to access the weapons you have. An ice axe, a flaming sword and a standard steel sword make up your arsenal. These various forms lends themselves to certain situations, but they don’t alter the gameplay much, if at all. If anything, the right element damages enemies a fair bit more. This mechanic mostly affects boss fights.
I’d personally have preferred if the weapons handled differently. Sure, the axe is a bit slower to swing and the flame sword slightly faster, but nothing hugely different. In a way, I appreciate the approach. It keeps the gameplay pure. Still, a bit more variety in the way that Bathoryn can attack would be interesting to see. The same applies to the magic system: I’d have enjoyed some new spells rather than the straight shot throughout the whole game.
But the game still plays incredibly well.
Disregarding my wishlist, Slain’s five-to-ten hour experience is a great one. Each stage consists of unforgiving enemy types with some interesting variety as you progress. The climactic finish in the form of a boss fight tops off the stages themselves. There’s an optional quest to find the medallion pieces in each level. Above all else though, Slain is simply fun to play if you love a challenge.
I’d recommend Slain: Back From Hell to anybody that wants a tough, rewarding, retro-inspired experience. It’s a whole package that fits its intended heavy metal aesthetic and refuses to give an inch to any player unwilling to learn from their mistakes. You will die. You’ll die again. There will be times when death becomes you. Persevere, though, and an intriguing screen awaits you at the end. Go get yourselves Slain.
About this Slain: Back From Hell Review.
Game: Slain: Back From Hell