Slain: Back from Hell (Xbox One Review)

Rarely has a game’s title been so indicative of its development cycle as it is with Slain: Back from Hell. Slain first headbanged its way onto digital storefronts in March of this year, and then quickly retreated into the ether with its flowing locks between its legs. Giving chase were accusations of poor design, awkward controls and crushing difficulty. Wolf Brew games withdrew their heavy metal gorefest and got back to work tuning it up. Was it all worth it?

tom_build12016-07-3014-45-36-60Going into Slaim: Back From Hell can be quite jarring. The opening level is very forgiving, with weak enemies throwing weak attacks at your powerful form. It almost lulls you into a false sense of security before throwing open the gates of hell.

tom_build12016-07-3014-29-41-47Past the first stage Slain descends into more and more difficult and obtuse game design. It’s an odd mish-mash of ideas that never feels like every element fits together. You’ll face off against both melee focussed and ranged enemies at the same time, which can make for a tense encounter. Unfortunately, the short pause between you pressing ‘attack’ and your heavy metal avatar, known as Bathoryn, attacking, and then the break before you can move after that, makes these scenarios more frustrating than tense.

Then there are the mini-boss style creatures that mostly require you to counter their blows and perform a devastating attack while they’re stunned. This is very Dark Souls like in feel, but rarely do you face off against these without hordes of nuisance enemies disrupting your every move. You could attempt to clear these additionals with a charged ranged attack, but there’s a good chance they’ll interrupt that too.

At least your innards are being spread across a very pretty, pixelated landscape. Slain’s world is one inspired by death metal album covers and features landscapes nearly constantly gushing blood. It’s quite striking to look at, but also could put some off as it doesn’t look particularly refined. Enemy design is on-point with the ghosts of dead children mobbing you one moment while fanged monstrosities chew at your jugular the next.

The audio is perfectly fitting to the places you find yourself spread across too, and the way your God of metal headbangs triumphantly after downing a foe is nothing short of beautiful.

tom_build12016-07-3014-25-54-20The world is further fleshed out via Bathoryn’s quest to rid this cursed land of the influence of Vroll, a giant, hulking werewolf-looking fellow who taunts Bathoryn throughout the game. In your way to cut his stupid lupin face off you’ll eviscerate several smaller foes that act as gatekeepers. For each new stage your undertake you’ll receive a new type of attack, and each of these attacks are effective for different types of enemy (which isn’t entirely clear).

All this building up is for nought, though. Slain is a game that makes you feel fantastically weak for all it bigs up the main character. Godlike creatures speak to him with something close to reverence. At every turn friend and foe seem to regard him as some incredible force of nature. But in battle he’s about as resilient as a load of biscuits glued together into the shape of a man. It’s like if DOOM guy could be killed by a single fireball from an Imp after all the mythological fanboying the game wraps around him. It emphasises that the player, not the protagonist, is the dangerous and venerated murder beast, but therein lies the problem.

I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I am very good at computer games. I’ve been kicking about virtual worlds since I was about 4 years old. That’s 26 years of intensive experience with claiming virtual lives. I’ve finished Dark Souls, I start new games on Hard difficulty. I generally know what I’m doing.

With all that said: Slain kicks the living shit out of me. I’m constantly knocked off ledges, into traps, caught in the middle of groups of tiny enemies until I die, caught out with counter timing that I SWEAR changes every time. It suggests that maybe the average gamer who quite likes Call of Duty, or even the more dedicated ones who enjoy a bit of Castlevania, may find themselves a tad out of their depth.

tom_build12016-07-3014-41-31-91The real kicker is that the difficulty is largely artificial. Enemies aren’t well programmed or thought out, there’s just lots of them. The game constantly forces you into impossibly tricky situations, spawning ranged enemies directly in front of pits as you jump, spawning enemies literally inside the player’s hitbox, typically swarming the player. There’s no strategy to most scripted encounters, just swinging and jumping and hoping it turns out ok.

Whether that’s a positive or a negative, keep it in mind when you’re eyeing up Slain: Back from Hell on your chosen digital store front.

Slain: Back from Hell

6

Overall

6.0/10

Pros

  • Unique art direction
  • Great music and audio
  • Well realised environments straight from the mentalist of death metal

Cons

  • Crushing difficulty
  • Awkward combat system
  • Unfair enemy placement and scripting
  • Really though, buy protective casings for your controllers if you get this game

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