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! 😉
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.