Review: Slain: Back from Hell (PS4)

slain-back-from-hell-review-banner-yr10

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PS Vita
  • Xbox One
  • PC, Mac

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • PS TV Compatible No
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save No
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Slain: Back from Hell
Format: PSN (PS4 429.7 MB)
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Digerati Distribution
Developer: Wolfbrew Games
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: T
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
We have become weak as gamers. Slain proved it to me. I used to be so much better. I could tackle Ghost and Goblins with patience and learned timing. I would accept restarting levels after death with strengthened resolve.

Now, I simply want to plow through a level, taking solace in the knowledge that a respawn point is not so far away. I don’t have the patience to learn an enemy’s weakness, because that level of dedication has been dissolved by years of it being told to me.

That’s not to say that games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls are walks in the park. Hell, in some ways there are steeper levels of difficulty in those games than Slain. What Slain represents is a nostalgic difficulty: one of difficult jumps and relentless bosses in a two-dimensional game arena where dodging is limited to left and right and blocks must be absolutely timed in order to move forward.

You will see this a lot.

You will see this a lot.

As a veteran of Shovel Knight, I not only appreciate this level of difficulty, but I welcome it from time to time. As a matter of fact, I would much rather play a game like Slain or Shovel Knight than the legion of roguelike games that end your game after one death.

This game’s difficulty comes, not from the abrupt “game over” that ensues from a single death. Rather, it comes from challenging platforming and combat gameplay. It comes from making you struggle until you reach the next checkpoint, only to die mere inches from it.

… equipped with a large sword and some magic …
Your heavy metal viking dude is brought back from the dead to take on an army of undead enemies as you explore a two-dimensional world of decay. If you are thinking Castlevania, you would be well within your rights to do so, but don’t expect Symphony of the Night level of exploration here.

While there is some vertical level exploration and you are able to backtrack within reason during a level, to retrieve some strategically avoided health for example, you are mostly completing a stage from left to right. So temper those expectations of Metroidvania and you will enjoy this for its raw gameplay.

No, seriously...a lot

No, seriously…a lot

As a heavy-metal rockin’ dude, you are equipped with a large sword and some magic. Pressing Square allows you to dive into a combo of slashes and stabs, while pressing Triangle lifts your blade up to block incoming attacks. L1 makes you slide back from an attack. I mention these instructions, because you will absolutely need them.

The first few minutes of the game had me plowing through insectoid enemies, almost confident that it wouldn’t get worse. My confidence waned almost immediately when some random spikes punctured my entire body – instant death.

… learn from your mistakes …
A Trophy chimed in, and it appropriately read “Get used to it.” And used to it I got. I spent the next couple of hours dying, dying, and dying. I had to relearn that level of patience and timing that I had lost years ago.

Even Shovel Knight didn’t task me as much. Fortunately, the checkpoints here are not nearly as brutal of conniving as those of Shovel Knight, tempting you to bypass them for added loot.

I remember this moment fondly.

I remember this moment fondly.

Much like similarly-difficult games, you learn from your mistakes and you begin to understand how certain enemies work, even when you are swarmed by them and have no seemingly way out. But as soon as you conquer one challenge, another one takes its place.

The aforementioned timing becomes integral to survival, in that certain enemies can only be defeated by successfully timing a block that leaves them temporarily dumbfounded. Others are more easily defeated by deflecting their own projectiles back at them. This does not cater to the meek of heart.

… you will be counting beats in animation …
Visuals:
Here come the Castlevania comparisons again. Except that Slain marks its own territory by adding that heavy metal approach to everything. After defeating a boss, for example, your character begins to headbang to the rockin’ tunes.

The game sports fantastically smooth animation, both in the main character and the baddies. This choice not only makes the game look good, but it also helps with gameplay, because you will be counting beats in animation if you plan on surviving.

This boss had amazing animation!

This boss had amazing animation, before this happened.

I know I’m nerding out on design when I state the following, but it has such a consistently great look throughout that I can’t help but cringe when I see the logo. It just seems too generic when compared to what lies within.

Obviously I would never score a game based on its logo, so disregard this completely. But I can definitely see some folks overlooking this gem based on the initial presentation.

… my recommendation, and warning …
Audio:
Great stuff here. This is, after all, a heavy metal action/platforming game. Naturally gameplay is complimented by some heavy metal tunes. Some of them are have a strong Metallica likeness. It all seems too appropriate really.

Hell, I think I even popped in some heavy-metal CDs back when I used to play Ghouls and Ghosts on my SEGA Genesis. This music style seems like the perfect marriage with the accompanying visuals.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Surround? No problem, you can just die and try again.Slain_20160922203006

Conclusion:
I cursed quite a few times. And as you can tell from my choice of screenshots for this review, I died quite often. But after the initial shock wore off, I returned to a time when this type of challenge was commonplace, and I survived it.

And therein lies my recommendation, and warning, for Slain. If this is the type of game you enjoy, it will absolutely challenge you. If you are not a glutton for such punishment, then you might want to temper your blood pressure and skip it.

I found it very enjoyable and the challenge refreshing. Others might not. I’m scoring this based on its ability to entertain those who love these types of games.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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