Published on August 4th, 2016 | by Andrewsarchis1
Review – Slain: Back from Hell
Slain was a game that grabbed my attention the moment I found out about it. A side-scrolling platformer with pixel graphics, Slain also aimed to add an insane amount of gore and heavy metal to the equation. As a fan of all those things, I knew I’d be picking it up. I waited as patiently as I could and finally, when the time came around for the game to release, it simply… didn’t.
Speculation started immediately about why the game wasn’t ready to go at the scheduled time, but that speculation turned into a very clear answer once the game was finally released: it wasn’t done. Not even close.
Reviews for the game were rife with complaints of unresponsive controls (a “Please play with a controller until we’ve fixed the keyboard lag!” disclaimer is never a good sign), progress not being saved, and gameplay that was downright boring. The backlash was so intense, the developers responded the following day, stating they were sad to see so many negative reviews and promised to get the game up to a standard that people would be happy with.
I simply didn’t have the patience to wait for it to be good at some undetermined point in the future, so I opted for a Steam refund. Still, I thought it had potential and kept an eye on the game. Updates rolled out in the subsequent months and the game slowly improved. Finally, on July 26th, the developers announced “patch 2.0”, which was aiming to be, in their words, more than a mere patch.
“It will be a complete revival of the game.”
Enter Slain: Back from Hell.
Once patch 2.0 was live, I repurchased the game, installed it, and started it up. The moment the main menu came up and I was met with heavy guitars and gory, pixelated goodness, I remembered exactly what I’d hoped the launch version of this game would be. Subtle things like palm-muted power chords chugging as you move from option to option in the menu add to the “What if Slayer made a platformer?” atmosphere. One cool feature is a “CRT Mode” under video options, which adds simulated scan lines and pixels to give the game even more of a retro vibe.
The story itself is just kind of there, but side-scrolling platformers aren’t exactly known for their in-depth plots, so I don’t see that as a negative. You play as a character named Bathoryn, a Zakk Wylde-looking guardian of some kind, who is awakened by a spirit that warns of the world’s demise. You’re told “You know what must be done” and the game begins.
As I mentioned before, Slain was unplayable with a keyboard at release, so I wanted to try playing with my keyboard to see how much had really changed. Once I took control of Bathoryn in the first level, the Bloodgrounds, I noticed the keyboard controls felt perfectly responsive. I’d intended to swap out for a controller after I took the keys for a spin, but I stuck with my trusty clicks and clacks because they worked so well. Whatever notions of unresponsive keystrokes existed in the past have been fixed with Back from Hell.
Apart from just the platforming and controls, this game gets a lot right with its nod to older side-scrolling platformers: hidden areas, an increasing difficulty that keeps things challenging without getting too frustrating, and levels that keep the same gothic theme, but change things up just enough to feel unique.
After you beat the first two stages, you’re whisked away by a witch of some sorts who takes you to the Skull Pub, which becomes the hub for your stage select. From here, the main goal is to free four more realms from the four evil overlords that rule them. It’s at this point that the game stops being just an introduction. You’re now knee deep in Slain: Back from Hell.
The biggest surprise to me was the combat. During my previous time, we’ll say 46 minutes, with the game, the combat struck me as monotonous. It suffered from the classic “you gotta touch him real quick and go” routine that many platformers do. You know how it goes: hit an enemy once, get away to avoid the counter attack, repeat. While some enemies can be beaten this way, they’ve added some things to spice up combat and it takes fights with stronger enemies to a new level.
After failing to take down a more powerful foe on the first stage, I remembered a prompt that said something about how a well-timed block can cause an enemy to stagger, allowing you to land a powerful Counter Attack. I gave it a shot on the enemy and killed him in 2 hits. In addition to the Counter Attack, you also have a ranged mana attack and a charged, Brutal Attack (which, along with the Counter Attack, was added in Back to Hell). These 3 methods shake things up when it comes to more powerful enemies and while you do regain mana from a successful Counter or Brutal Attack, there’s almost no incentive to use these on standard mobs, so the bulk of the combat can get pretty stale if you’re not into hacking and slashing.
Speaking of stale, the soundtrack is a bit of a letdown. Curt Victor Bryant, who composed the soundtrack, played with Swiss metal legends Celtic Frost for 2 years, so it’s especially disappointing that it feels so uninspired. Each song is a full-fledged song but in each tune, riffs are repeated again and again before the track actually loops, creating the illusion that you’re only hearing about 30 seconds of actual song. At one point, I started to feel like I was in the video for Thunderhorse from Dethklok, with all the blood, gore, and galloping guitar riffs, but it was short-lived, as the song almost immediately fizzled out and became boring. It kind of feels as if a song was written for each stage without any regard for how the stage looks and how the music should make the stage feel. For a game that was intended to have metal music as part of its appeal, the soundtrack is repetitive, poorly mastered, and one of the weaker aspects of an otherwise killer game.
Also Bathoryn does a windmill headbang a la George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher when you beat each boss. It’s pretty brutal.
Ultimately, Slain: Back from Hell successfully addressed most of the complaints that plagued its release. The game controls better, the combat has been spiced up with the addition of Brutal Attacks, Counter attacks, and a dedicated block button. Hit detection is improved, and almost anything that was “game breaking” has been fixed. While these improvements do give a new life to the game, it still suffers from combat that borders on monotonous and a repetitive soundtrack. Those things aren’t necessarily a dealbreaker though and the game is still very fun.
Slain: Back from Hell is out now for $12.99 on Steam and other digital stores.
Summary: If you’re a fan of old school platformers and are up for a bit of a challenge, Slain: Back from Hell is worth picking up. At a reported 6 hours, the price might be a hard sell, so if you’re undecided, wait for a Steam sale.