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Slain: Back From Hell

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Wolf Brew Games
Release Date: March 24, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Slain!'

by Brian Dumlao on April 18, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Slain! is a gory hack'n slash game where players control Bathoryn, a hero in a Gothic world, seeking to liberate seven great towers.

One of the main staples of the 8- and 16-bit eras was the side-scrolling action game. Games like Blackthorne, Castlevania and Gargoyle's Quest II were some of the bigger representatives of this genre while others like Batman and Shatterhand were also solid titles. The resurgence in the 2-D format has brought some good examples of this gameplay style, like Blood of the Werewolf and Bloodrayne: Betrayal. At first glance, Slain! seems to be a prime example of how to do things correctly in this space — but it doesn't take very long to realize that it isn't.

You play the role of Bathoryn, a great warrior who died long ago. He's such a great warrior that he was summoned by spirits to return to the living world against his own wishes. He's the only one capable of killing a vampire named Vroll, whose minions have overrun the land. Without much choice in the matter, Bathoryn goes forth to slay the monsters.

Story doesn't usually factor into these old-school efforts, and that's certainly the case here.The developers should be applauded for reminding players every now and then that there is an overarching story to the carnage, but since the dialogue bits can be fast-forwarded, you can ignore it without consequence. Those who pay attention to the story will find that there isn't a level of seriousness you'd expect based on the tone. The game is flippant when it comes to switching between Olde English and modern speech. That wouldn't be bothersome if it weren't for the fact that very modern words like "btw" are thrown in without abandon. It feels off and doesn't make the whole thing endearing.

Slain! is a typical hack-and-slash title with a few extras. Bathoryn has a quick attack that can chain into a three-hit combo as well as a heavier attack that leads to decapitation, a move that also replenishes his mana bar. Mana can be used to throw out a spirit ball and perform a mana explosion that clears all enemies from the screen. On the defensive side, he can do a backward dash and knock projectiles from the air. When you're not fighting, you're engaging in very basic platforming that includes hitting switches to activate moving platforms and open blocked-off rooms.

On the surface, that sounds like a solid formula, and it sound even better when you encounter areas where you transform into a wolf. There are quite a number of levels to go through, so the game's not short. However, everything falls apart the minute you start to fight. For the most part, the combat feels ineffectual. You have a wind-up time when you start your first swing, but there's isn't the feeling that you're doing anything to the foe once the hit lands. You'll see blood spray, but they're not stunned when the blows hit, and a normal foot soldier takes quite a number of hits before he goes down.

The heavier decapitation attack is just as weak as the quick attack, and since there are added animation frames to depict it, there's no reason to ever use it. This is especially true when you realize that there are lots of full mana pick-ups in the world, so you're never without your spirit attacks for very long. It also doesn't help that the lack of feedback from a hit goes both ways. There is an indication that you've been hit, but it blends in too well with the rest of the attacks and blood spray that you may not notice it. More often than not, you'll be surprised by your demise since you didn't even know you were in trouble. The fighting, which is the core of the game, feels uninspired.

The issues with combat are further compounded by lots of bugs. Some hitboxes for some enemy attacks remain on-screen long after the attack is gone, so you'll get hit by things that should no longer exist. The game is also rather unclear about when you've saved the game. You may hit a checkpoint, and you'll constantly go there after death, but unless you actually make it to a full-screen splash of text, you're going back to the beginning of the stage if you reboot. Slain! may be pretty responsive when you're using an Xbox 360 controller, but those who are playing with a keyboard will find that the title suffers from input lag using this method — so much so that the game page on Steam recommends only using a controller for now. That issue is further damning to Mac owners, as the game refuses to recognize the Steam Controller as a valid controller on that operating system, so the experience is nearly unplayable there. Combined with some unfulfilled promised features, like a cloud saving system that doesn't work and completely missing Steam Trading Cards, there's loads of work that needs to be done to Slain!, which feels more like a candidate for Early Access than something that's ready for final release.

The graphics are the one area where the title shines. The gothic pixel look fits well with the game thanks to the fluidity of the animations. That's also enhanced by the myriad of effects, including lots of transparency and buckets of pixelated blood. The character designs are excellent, especially those of the monsters, who look especially gruesome. Aside from the game's overall dark color tone, the only thing that can irk a few players is the overly ornate font that's used for dialogue and cut scenes, as it can make things rather difficult to read.

If you were expecting the game to have great sound, then you'd be disappointed. The soundtrack is done by metal musician Curt Victor Bryant, and genre fans are sure to love the material. Loads of heavy guitar and drums fill the speakers, and while the track in the first level seems rather monotonous, the rest of the tracks are a joy. Unfortunately, there are a few technical issues that mar things. First, the music doesn't know when to stop. You'll die, sit through the lengthy "Game Over" screen, and then come back, but the music has been blaring that whole time. It also doesn't know how to loop, so you'll catch the song fade, enter a period of silence, and then start back up again. The biggest issue with the music is how it completely drowns out the sound effects. Unless you catch them at the song transitions or decrease the music volume, you'll be forgiven for thinking that the game features no sound effects at all. Then again, that might be the fault of the music balancing, as the effects are pretty poor. Sword slashes and hits lack any sort of discernible impact, and bigger things being moved or pillars of fire being shot from the ground are neutered due to their lack of effects.

In the end, Slain! is very much a game that employs style over substance. It gets the look down, and the music fits in nicely. While the platforming is passable, the combat feels half-baked. Combine that with a myriad of bugs both big and small, and the game disappoints all around. While the hope is that the developers get some patches in soon to improve things, it's very difficult to recommend Slain! in its current state to anyone when there are plenty of better alternatives.

Score: 3.5/10

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