Posted August 12, 2021 in Indie Games

Game Review – Slain: Back from Hell

What do you get when you cross thundering heavy metal with pixel art, swords, long hair, and lots of blood and gore? Mix them together in a virtual melting pot and you get Andrew Gilmour’s blood-soaked hack and slash epic Slain: Back from Hell. This game is a few years old now (released in 2016) but it’s part of a larger resurgence of pixel-based shooters, hack-n-slash, and roguelike indie titles that have gained prominence over the years. I got Slain recently in a bundle paired with its spiritual successor, Valfaris, as an impulse buy. So, how did that impulse buy turn out?

How do you describe frustration? How often do you play a game that doesn’t just fill you frustration, but it makes the very act of picking up a controller a thing of brutality and rage? I can honestly say that frustration of this type for me has been a rare occurrence in gaming. I can get frustrated and angry with a game when I’m being spawn camped or sniped by some 10 year old n00b from across a map in Call of Duty or Battlefield, but Slain: Back from Hell is something completely different…

The Story and Gameplay

In Slain, you play as Bathoryn, an 80s heavy metal hero wielding luscious white locks and a powerful compliment of sword, fire sword, and ice axe. He’s been thrust into a six level, monster-infested hell hole with one mission: to kill anything that gets in his way! And that’s the basic explanation of Slain. There are moments where Bathoryn interacts with NPCs who give minor exposition for the level you’re playing, but there’s not much else here except a blood-drenched hack-n-slash fest to the next pixelated, bloody level.

It sounds cool, right? Well, I can say that Slain takes the player and truly puts them into the middle of this terrible world with its insanely difficult gameplay. Enemies and the environment start out hard and only get stronger and more devastating as you work your way through twisted mazes of blood and gore. It’s been a long time since I played a game where I felt that it legitimately wanted me to die. In fact, those feelings were validated with a variety of Xbox achievements celebrating the fact that I had died over 200 times!

I died in Slain…a lot. Probably more than I’ve ever died in a game before. At first it was annoying, but eventually it became a way of life. Advance, die, learn the enemy attack patterns, die again, die again, then advance. It was that adrenaline rush of advancing to the next checkpoint that kept me going. Eventually, my frustration just turned to rage and although I seriously felt like quitting the game, I decided to not let it beat me…I was going to finish it…no matter what! And, finish it I did. I eventually finished the game and was rewarded with the most frustrating of all endings…a cliffhanger…

Some Notes on History

Slain: Back from Hell is actually an update and re-release of Slain. The game was poorly received at its initial launch because it had extremely bad control response and was just overall an unenjoyable experience. You don’t have to look far to find initial reviews of this game and its myriad of problems. So, the developers listened to the community and went back to the drawing board to improve the game. The result is Back from Hell. I’m not sure a more fitting name ever existed for a game, because the changes made the game much more fluid and responsive. lItErAllY plAyAblE! ๐Ÿ˜‰

What Do I Think?

So, what do I think about my experience with Slain? Well…it was hard as hell! But, it’s a fair experience. I didn’t like some of the mechanics in the game. There are some bosses you simply cannot defeat without using the parry on your weapon and timing that just right on an Xbox controller against a one-shot boss fight can be frustrating as…well…HELL! But…when it works, it’s incredible. The payout for conquering these difficult enemies is, for some reason, worth the pain and suffering you’re sure to endure throughout the game.

Slain makes no attempt to hide what it is: a bloody, pixel-art based kill fest. And I’m perfectly okay with that. In fact, I welcome a game that is up in your face and honest about its reasons for existing. For the $12.99 average price you’ll pay for this one, I can’t help but recommend it to anyone looking to punish themselves or just looking for a bloody, heavy-metal shrouded trip down retro memory lane.

Slain: Back from Hell is available on almost every popular device you can find. Check it out on Steam, GOG, Xbox, Playstation, and most recently the Nintendo Switch platform.

Posted June 16, 2021 in Elite Dangerous

This Has Been Rough

To say that its been rough in the Elite Dangerous community the last few weeks would be an understatement. If you had asked me two years ago if I could imagine such a hostile and divisive situation within my beloved community, I would tell you that it wasn’t possible. Unfortunately, the less than stellar (space pun intended) release of Elite Dangerous Odyssey has fractured and soured a community that is an massive part of my life both in game and in real life.

By now, most people are aware that Frontier Developments released its long awaited DLC for Elite Dangerous called Odyssey back in May. Just a few weeks prior to that release, the game held a closed Alpha for owners of the game’s Deluxe Edition. The technology was impressive, but the performance was deeply concerning and was something regularly addressed by the players. Then it was announced shortly after the Alpha ended that the game would go to full release. Personally, I was concerned that the game had not held a Beta of any kind and was going from Alpha to Gold Master in a couple of weeks. But, I had faith in the people who for years have provided me with 400 billion stars to explore from the comfort of my home while I snack on pizza and Monster Energy Drinks. Then, the launch came…

My IRL job keeps me away from most Elite Dangerous patch launches and other activities. Central Standard Time is six hours behind British Standard Time, so people living in the future get to experience these releases well before I do. On the day of the Odyssey release, I personally expected some bugs and performance issues. That’s typical for modern day gaming publishers, unfortunately. When reports of performance problems began rolling in, I shrugged them off. Then I noticed something that shocked me.

I was less shocked by the broken state in which Odyssey was launched and more disturbed by the immediate dismissal, disparaging, and outright hostility coming from people I’ve known and respected for years. This is a game DLC that launched broken, but there were so many people who responded to the state of the game as though Frontier Developments had come to their home and beat up their grandmother. In my honest opinion, the outrage was (and still is) disproportionate to the state of the game. In an unfortunate change of fate, Frontier and its team went from respected companions in the Elite Dangerous journey to disgusting imbeciles who couldn’t code their way out of a SkiFree remake. I can understand some frustration, but not what has come of it.

Personally, I had minimal problems running Odyssey on my computer running an Radeon 5500 XT with 4GB of video memory. Occasionally I would see a stutter around busy stations, but exploration was buttery smooth. There were graphical glitches throughout the game, but most of these have been patched out since. I dismissed much of the rage and vitriol from people as just petty bickering. Unfortunately, YouTuber YongYea, who tends to amplify controversies in the gaming world, picked up the story and made a video about how the Elite community was protesting the new release. I was honestly heartbroken to see Elite Dangerous covered by him because I knew that this was getting out of hand.

The negativity is everywhere. Social media, podcasts, YouTube, Discord…you name it and there’s a group of people swimming in salt over some perceived personal slight. It’s heartbreaking, unfortunate, and ultimately…unnecessary.

What’s my opinion of Elite Dangerous Odyssey? I wanted to be the champion who ranted and raved about how great it is. I wanted to love every step that my CMDR took when he stepped out of the Nightwish and on to the surface of a distant world. Unfortunately, the negative environment and myriad of problems on launch were deeply disappointing. Odyssey did not launch as the now infamous “Armstrong Moment” once proclaimed. It launched as a broken mess that could have been prevented with a little more time and testing. There’s no excuse for the state in which the game launched. I don’t believe for a moment that the release was fully tested by Frontier’s Quality Assurance team on a variety of hardware before it went to Gold Master. As someone who has built software before and has worked on multi-million dollar projects for the US Government, I cannot for a moment believe that the initial release was properly vetted before it was sent to the masses.

But…

None of that excuses the outright vitriol directed at Frontier and its staff. Whether its the developers or the community management team, I just don’t see the point in directing so much rage at them. Why? Because at no point has Frontier abandoned this release nor have they simply set back and make excuses for the bugs and performance issues. The company has made marked improvements on its communication by finally answering YES and NO to questions asked by the community. That’s a far cry from the typical “we can’t say anything about that at this time” that plagued the pre-release cycle. Of course the 6 people who use VR with Elite are upset that no more development will be done in Odyssey with that tech, but at least they received a definitive answer. It might not be the one that the VR community wanted to hear, but it’s an answer.

I honestly don’t believe that we can say that Frontier doesn’t understand that they made a mistake with the condition of the release and are frantically working to fix it. Patches have already been deployed to fix graphical problems, improve performance, and bring Odyssey closer to what was promised. There are countless video game companies that would have thrown Odyssey out to the masses in its initial release state and then closed the doors and turned off the radio. Instead of ignoring the feedback, Frontier has asked for more feedback and is actively working to fix things. As I write this, we are due for the forth and fifth major patches for the game in the next few weeks.

Under any Elite Dangerous social media post these days you’ll find the random person making the comment: Bro, why am I only getting 45 fps in your shit game!? At this point, the discussion is over and people (for some reason) have settled into a comfortable zone where they feel that they can be randomly insulting and believe that will make things better. There’s this sense that Frontier deserves to be abused for its betrayal to the community and that anything can be said without consequence. It’s unfortunate and, honestly, heartbreaking to see. Here’s my suggestion: TURN OFF YOUR FPS MONITOR AND JUST PLAY THE GAME.

At this point, I can only say this:

I have no intention of quitting Elite Dangerous. I was disappointed with the initial release of Odyssey, but I am well pleased with the patches and updates. The game is smooth and there are some unbelievable vistas to be discovered on the newly opened planets. The surfaces are much different than Horizons, but I’m growing to like the diversity in the surfaces across different worlds. I think that there is much to love about Elite Dangerous Odyssey and the Elite community needs to find a way to simply chill the hell out. Stop licking the salt, take a deep breath, and relax for a bit. If Odyssey fills you with such rage that you feel the need to lash out at Frontier, me, other content creators, or anyone for that matter…please step away from the game and take a break. Maybe go for a walk outside or try playing something else for a while. A broken video game DLC is not worth allowing hate and anger to destroy a community that has been so close for so long.

In the end, I believe that Frontier will do right by Odyssey and that it will become one of the greatest space simulator releases of all time. Will the sting of the initial release go away? Certainly, but it will take time. In the meantime, it’s up to us to continue playing, continue looking, continue enjoying, and continuing to provide constructive and respectful feedback to Frontier on our experiences in the game. It’s obvious they love Elite Dangerous as much as we do and we need to start working together again if there is any hope for our community’s future.

Fly safe out there, CMDRs. o7

Posted June 15, 2021 in Elite Dangerous

“Out There” Goes Odyssey

My Elite Dangerous web series Out There is three years old and has seen quite a change from its early days. From the general way in which its presented to the most recent game update, Odyssey, which brings the capability for my CMDR to set foot on distant worlds for the first time. Now, it’s time for a game changer…

With the arrival of Elite Dangerous Odyssey, I have officially transitioned Out There to the new expansion and all future episodes will be filmed in Odyssey instead of the traditional setting of Horizons. I realize that some players have had challenges running the DLC, but I’ve had no problems outside of a minor stutter near a space station during launch week.

I’m happy to be walking on distant worlds and taking the Nightwish to new places unseen, but it certainly feels weird to not be playing the game on my Xbox, which has been my space home and source of content creation for the past few years. The switch to PC is absolutely not permanent for me, however. As soon as Odyssey launches on Xbox and PS5, I will be transitioning back to console. For now, though, join me every Saturday at 1200 CST for a new Out There premier on my YouTube channel.

You can see the latest episodes of Out There or browse my other gaming content (Monster Hunter, No Man’s Sky, Far Cry, etc.) on my YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/commanderexorcist.

Fly safe out there, CMDRs! o7

Commander Exorcist

Posted June 8, 2021 in Monster Hunter, Virtual Photography

The Flooded Forest Pyramid

The Flooded Forest is easily my favorite region in the Monster Hunter franchise. It captivated me ever since its debut in Monster Hunter Tri where it was a beautiful combination of ground and underwater combat areas. Monster Hunter Rise reintroduces the Flooded Forest, but places us on the opposite side of the ancient pyramid; a complete departure from the area we accessed via Moga Village in Tri. My love for the region should make it obvious why I’ve had it on my list to photograph for weeks now.

Due to the low resolution at which the Nintendo Switch displays its games, it was necessary to take nine separate screenshots to create this composite. The final product is 3000 x 1500 pixels in size. You can view a larger (2048 x 1024px) version here.

I’ll soon be clearing out my Monster Hunter photo gallery and re-curating it with a combination of my best photos from Monster Hunter World, Iceborne, and Rise.

Posted in General Updates

A Hard Reset

If you’ve visited my website before, you might notice that things are much different around here than they used to be. That’s because I decided to wipe out everything on the old site and replace it with a brand new design and layout that will help me keep all of my projects and interests much more organized. I look forward to sharing my creations with you all here in the coming weeks as I work to get this site fully operational. In the meantime, fly safe out there, CMDRs! o7