Slain: Back from Hell, is a retro inspired (16 or 32bit I haven’t quite decided which brand of old school they’re going for) 2D hack and slash that feels like a cross between pre Symphony of the Night Castlevania and Chakan: The Forever Man (eg, the 16bit era’s Dark Souls). In short, it’s dark, gothic and feels like you’re wandering through a series of covers to metal albums from the 1980’s. Oh and, it’s incredibly unforgiving.
Players take on the role of Bathoryn, an undead avenger on a mission to save the world from the evil – Lord Voll (who totally isn’t Dracula). There is a story there, somewhere, but its presented via text based conversations and the occasional tit bit revealed while the games loading, so it’s not particularly easy to follow, or care about. All of the game’s text is written in that font most Death Metal bands use too, so to the untrained eye it’s practically unreadable.
All you really need to know is that there is a dark lord. He has many minions. You need to kill the lot of them.
Wearing its inspirations on it’s sleeve, Slain mixes basic platforming sections with a heavy focus on combat. There’s all manner of horrifying bastards that will put you out of your misery. While you have a mix of fireball chucking and sword skills to defend yourself with, parrying with devastating blows if you block incoming attacks at the right time (though working out the timing can be tricky) as well as being able to dole out punishment with a mix of combos and charged attacks that can be incredibly handy, so long as you don’t get kicked in the shins before it’s fully charged.
Each enemy type has a different move set and figuring out their attack patterns is a large part of the fun. Or it is when they don’t punt you off a platform and send you tumbling into the nearest pit – killing you instantly. It’s an old school problem, for a retro inspired game, and one that seems to almost pride itself on the amount of cheap deaths it can dole out, from pretty much every surface being toxic, to traps that you can barely make out and projectiles that come from off screen to immolate you, or knock you into another bloody pit!
Thankfully it gets around being too frustrating by having liberal checkpoints. Though it telling you that you’ve been Slain every time you die does begin to grate really quickly.
When it all gels together Slain can feel quite satisfying, as Bathoryn successfully bats away an incoming projectile then parries an incoming strike from a werewolf’s claw, reposting with a powerful blow that tears the lycanthrope in half and showers you in glorious viscera. But these glorious gore filled moments are all bookended by what feels like an eternity of cheap deaths and rock ‘em sock ‘em combat.
If you’re hoping for SOTN levels of exploration you’re going to be disappointed. Slain Simply isn’t that kind of game. Save for the occasional secret area, each stage is a linear gauntlet of platforms, pits, traps and monsters, which end in an inevitable boss fight.
Slain’s biggest strength is it’s presentation. Unlike most game’s that attempt to look like an old game, but you just know the tech it’s trying to emulate could never have actually ran it. Slain looks like a long lost PS1 game, and it’s commendable that they decided to create a game that looks and feels authentic rather than using the rose coloured filter that many ‘retro themed’ games do.
It also helps that each of the games stages and locations are suitably METAL themed, featuring gothic blood splattered ruins, with flaming belching dragons and screaming skulls, it looks like something from a Dio video, complete with a metal score full of chugging guitars and heavy drums reminiscent of the likes of Manowar and Maiden, and a trophy list featuring nods and winks to some of the genres greats, It’s about as METAL as you can get.
Despite my love of it’s METAL stylings. I’m well aware that Slain: Back from Hell is not a game for everyone. Metalheads are bound to get a kick out of its BRUTAL stylings, but its numerous cheap deaths and punishing difficulty are going to be off putting to most. Recommended for fans of old school metal and hard old games..