Slain: Back from Hell Review

By Jonathan Barnes, 2 years ago
I sympathize with Bathoryn, the protagonist of Slain: Back from Hell. Many nights I'm crudely awakened from a peaceful slumber to dispatch foul demons and free the land of their stench. Granted, the demons that need to be exorcised from my land happen to be produced by my dog's butt, but the point still stands; getting rudely woken from a peaceful slumber is enough to make you want to grab a sword and go aswingin' at some demons. Bathoryn's demons are much more literal and through the course of six different worlds, you'll be tasked with dispatching a lot of them. Unfortunately, the process is about as fun as taking your dog out for a poop walk at 3am... in the middle of the pouring rain.

Seriously, I just. want. to. sleep.Seriously, I just. want. to. sleep.

A heavy metal tinged homage to games like Castlevania, Slain scratches the itch for some old-school, action-platform gameplay. Bathoryn can jump, swing his sword, use magic, dodge, and block... and that's about it. The simplicity of the gameplay presents a double-edged sword: it's easily accessible but gets boring very quickly. After going through three of the six worlds, I found myself aching for some variety. A combo system or special weapons (my kingdom for a Battle Cross) would have been most welcome. Furthermore, enemies seem to be equally simplistic. While each world does have its own flavor of demons, they mostly act in predictable ways.

These two drawbacks actually play off each other in a Voltron-esque slog of frustration. Enemies only get tougher by inflicting more damage and taking less (let me tell you the story of the flame knight that takes twenty hits to kill but can kill you in one), meaning that you're going to be grinding and mashing the same buttons over and over without much variety. The difficulty is also increased by throwing more enemies into the mix at the same time, but the lack of combat variety ends up making this escalation more of a chore than an exciting challenge. The game lacks any kind of an upgrade system, so there's no chance of ever extending your life or mana bars. While the goal for Slain may have been to cut through the fat and unnecessary mechanics that have accumulated in action-platformers over the past 30 years, Wolf Brew Games cut a bit too deep and now the game feels like a shallow, annoying grind.

The writing aims for cheesy, Gothic metal, but mostly misses.The writing aims for cheesy, Gothic metal, but mostly misses.

The more that I played Slain, the more that I realized that it wasn't that difficult. Deaths are frequent, but death is fortunately not that punitive. Checkpoints are generous and restarts after death are almost instantaneous. I did have many moments of unfathomable rage at what I perceived to be cheap deaths, unreliable hit boxes, and inconsistent parries, but the game wasn't hard as much as it was annoyingly frustrating. After throwing myself at one of Slain's bosses for three play sessions that totalled about an hour, I was ready to break a controller and my Kinect probably caught me saying things that will ensure that I never hold public office.

The source of this frustration was Slain's unreliable technical aspects. So much of a player's success in action-platformers revolves around the ability to recognize the patterns of enemies and adjust tactics. Where Slain ultimately falls short is that the hitboxes of enemies and parrying their attacks are ridiculously unpredictable. The quick respawn time reinforces and heightens this dilemma in that you're able to adjust tactics quickly, but without a reliable area to either attack or parry, it's impossible to tell which tactics will work each time.

I'll take Cheap Platforming Deaths for $100, Alex.I'll take "Cheap Platforming Deaths" for $100, Alex.

Slain's writing also does it no favors. The dialogue text and pre-world intros all seem to aim for a cheesy, Gothic style, but come off as heavy-handed and hackneyed. You may not come to games like this for the story and writing, but the groan-inducing text was yet another turnoff.

Most unfortunately (for our community at least), the challenge of Slain is not in finishing the game, but getting the achievements. Let's go right ahead and eat the proverbial frog on this right now; the achievements in Slain are an exercise in masochism, so much so that the developer even taunted the TrueAchievements' twitter account with a wish of luck for achievement hunters. In no particular order, there are achievements for the following bits of torture: killing a particularly rage-inducing boss in under 30 seconds and another one for beating her without losing any health. There are also pops for completing the game without using Mana and, most heinously, finishing the game without losing a life. To sum it up, you will not complete this game. You just won't. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Seriously, let's have a chat about the writing.Seriously, let's have a chat about the writing.


Summary

Slain ticks off the boxes as a serviceable homage to old school action-platformers. It has relatively tight controls and gameplay and has that 80's/90's difficulty that will make elder millennials jaunt down memory lane. The lack of depth and unreliable technical aspects limit Slain's fun factor, while the writing aims to be both cheesy and Gothic, but cannot serve both masters and ultimately fails. Finally, the achievements... ugh... just don't go there. If you're aching for a throwback to Belmont's heyday and don't care about your achievement ratio, give Slain a shot, but otherwise, give it a pass and catch some z's.
2 / 5
Slain: Back from Hell
Positives
  • Good homage to 8/16-bit action platformers
  • Quick restarts after death
Negatives
  • Lack of combat variety and depth
  • Old school frustration without new school solutions
  • PUNISHING achievements
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 20 hours with the game, unlocking 9 of the 30 achievements. An Xbox One copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.