Valfaris Brings Steel Mantis Back From Hell

By Rebecca Smith,
When Slain was first released on PC, the game received fairly poor reviews due to a myriad of issues. As a result, developer Steel Mantis went back to the drawing board and reworked several parts of the game; the end product was the release of Slain: Back from Hell on both PC and consoles. Now the team is aiming to build on those foundations with their latest title Valfaris, another 2D action-platformer with heavy metal coursing through its veins. This time, though, we're heading into space.

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The titular Valfaris owns a fortress. Unfortunately, that fortress disappeared from the galactic charts under mysterious circumstances. It didn't disappear for long, though, reappearing just as mysteriously in orbit around a dying sun. During the time it couldn't be found, it became home to an "ever-growing darkness" that offers a safe haven for plenty of arcane creatures. Valfaris' son, Therion, isn't too happy with this development and sets out to destroy the evil within, all while trying to work out why the fortress has changed from a paradise into hell. At EGX 2018, we made our way through the Landing Pad level, which takes place just after Therion has arrived at the fortress. He has his job cut out for him because there are plenty of creatures that now wander its halls.

Therion is a typical 80s metalhead with long flowing hair and a tendency to headbang whenever he does something well. The heavy metal influence is prevalent throughout the title, owing largely to the fact that the game's artist, Andrew Gilmour, is a big metal fan, and the soundtrack has been put together by the returning Curt Victor Bryant from Swiss extreme metal band Celtic Frost. 80s metal was known for its excesses, including in its imagery; its something Valfaris is taking to heart and this is certainly not a bad thing.

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If you've ever played Slain: Back from Hell, you'll know what to expect from the old-school run and gun Metroidvania-style platformer. Therion begins the game with two weapons, a Plasma Pistol that has unlimited ammo for ranged attacks — shooting takes place in eight directions — and an Energy Sword for powerful melee attacks. The latter can also create a force field to block projectiles. Throughout the game, players will come across a variety of other weapons, some light and some heavy. During our time with the game, we found the Hellwraith, a rapid fire minigun used for a much heavier attack than the pistol. To prevent players from overusing these weapons, each has a charge bar, and charge can only be replenished through collecting blue orbs from enemies killed during melee attacks. The developer plans to include a large variety of weapons, so players should find something to suit their playstyle.

Players face a variety of enemies. There are all kinds of armoured beasts with basic attacks, from wolf-like hounds to soldiers, but it's the bosses with a far more complex set of moves that is where the game provides its challenge. The first such encounter was against a much larger armoured hound that fired a salvo of rockets from its back, had a ground pound attack, and had toxic breath. Of the several other bosses we faced in a short space of time, another was the Junk Gargoyle who created a rotating circular shield for himself out of the junk in his lair. When he got bored of the shield, he'd throw it at you. None of the bosses have consistent patterns of attack, which will keep players on their toes and constantly moving. Stay still and you're as good as dead.

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Exploration is encouraged and there are secret rooms with a variety of collectibles. One of these was a Blood Metal, which can be used to upgrade weapons. They're also great sources of extra save crystals, which players need to collect throughout the game. These have a couple of uses. First they can be used to activate checkpoints throughout each level, and if you're anything like me, you're going to need them. There are enough crystals throughout the game to activate every checkpoint, but you can choose not to do so if you're feeling brave and want to risk continuing onwards without that safety net. Not only are checkpoints obviously used for respawning upon death, they can replenish health and they're also great places to swap weapons and upgrade them. Secondly, when you reach the end of the level, up to three crystals that are surplus can be put into a machine that will award bonuses.

Valfaris thrives on its difficulty, which will be too much for the casual player. You'll die repeatedly as enemies make unexpected moves, or you make a stupid mistake that costs too much health. However, the game is never unfair, and you can make as many attempts as you like from each checkpoint until you eventually succeed and progress further. If you learn from your mistakes, adapt your strategy and try again, nothing is impossible. Dare you face the challenge when the game is released in spring 2019?
Rebecca Smith
Written by Rebecca Smith
Rebecca is the Newshound Manager at TrueGaming Network. She has been contributing articles since 2010, especially those that involve intimidatingly long lists. When not writing news, she works in an independent game shop so that she can spend all day talking about games too. She'll occasionally go outside.