In the months leading up to Slain’s release I would occasionally see screenshots of the game in production pop up in my twitter feed and damn it looked good. The designs of the weapons, enemies, levels, backgrounds, everything: it all looked amazing. My hype was sparked and anticipation for an awesome new sidescrolling beat ’em up grew… Then it came out… Slain is a medieval hack ‘n’ slash with great visual direction and it’s boring as hell. If I had to write a walkthrough for Slain all it would say is run to the right and press the attack button when something is in front of you and if you’re lucky the game won’t screw up and jam your combo sending your character into a useless spasm. I’m sure Wolf Brew Games thought they couldn’t go wrong with an art team as good as theirs and the bassist for Celtic Frost (between the years of 1988 and 1990) writing the soundtrack; the problem is a video game needs a bit more than some kickass designs and some sludging metal riffs. A game needs to be fun and Slain just isn’t.
I’ll get to why it’s boring soon, first I want to talk about the good stuff: how it looks and how it sounds. Slain was obviously designed by artists because it looks as if there isn’t a single design that didn’t have truckloads of attention put into it. The whole game shines with vibrant and contrasting colours, detailed sprites and aesthetic animations. It feels good swinging around a broadsword dripping with magma or an iced battle-axe almost the size of your character. The medieval setting and demonic themes are nicely complimented with a dark and sincere heavy metal soundtrack. The music really appealed to the metaler in me (I couldn’t help but throw my long hair around when the music in the sewer came on) but I couldn’t help but feel that the tracks were either too short or just didn’t change enough because after a while of being in the same level it would get as annoying as the friend that keeps playing the same song over and over at parties (or the radio): you acknowledge that the song is good but if you hear it again you’ll kill yourself.
I should probably mention the story but it doesn’t even seem like it’s worth it… Whatever, you play as Bathoryn and you have been woken after eons of sleep because bad guys are doing bad things and you have to stop them. That’s pretty much it. You leave your crypt and are introduced to an antagonist that plays almost no role in the whole game and extremely horrible dialogue that was either written by a teenager or written to purposely make fun of itself and in this case I cannot tell which would be worse. I’m all for not taking yourself too seriously but I’m also not a fan of cringe-vomiting. You fight through a series of levels and bosses (not one of them memorable) then the story ends on a cliffhanger and you don’t even get a final boss fight. The story in this game is a waste of time and an insult.
Now it’s time to talk about what sucks in this game. Slain has by far some of the most boring gameplay I have ever seen in a hack ‘n’ slash. You have: a three hit combo, which is the same for all three of the weapons you get; a special attack, that is no better than your normal attack and is only used to decapitate foes when they’re at low health meaning it’s only really cosmetic; a jump attack; a dodge; a magic projectile and an area of effect magic attack. These are all you have and yet you’ll still only find yourself using the combo (unless you’re low on health in which case you’ll just throw magic around until you get to a checkpoint). The boredom doesn’t come from the controls, it comes from the level and enemy designs. Every level is either a linear path or a hallway so the enemies are only ever coming at you from straight ahead so you’re never challenged laterally in any way. There are three different types of enemies: ones that walk up to you and hit you, ones that shoot stuff at you and ones that just fly right into you. Nothing is placed in any interesting way: all enemies are placed directly in your path, pitfalls and traps are just arbitrarily thrown wherever and there’s nothing to collect so there’s nowhere to explore and nothing to look for.
There are no puzzles (unless you count tasteless open sesame tricks, I do not) or anything interesting to do so the game is boring on a fundamental level and then, on top of that, it throws a bunch of frustrating crap at you. Some traps won’t show you what triggers them so you have to jump blindly not knowing exactly what you’re supposed to be avoiding; the hit boxes make no god damn sense because sometimes you’re attacks will hit when you’re clearly miles away then sometimes you’re axe will be in their head and it won’t register anything; enemy attacks are random, too fast to avoid and almost impossible to see and sometimes, randomly, you’re combo just won’t work and Bathoryn will stand there frittering out while hordes of demons scratch at his face. Slain is not hard in any way but I found myself dying over and over at certain parts because of dumbass bullcrap.
I couldn’t help but see a major influence from Castlevania. Castlevania, too, was developed by artists and that game was amazing and looked amazing for the time. It feels like they were trying to capture the magic of Castlevania in Slain but instead of using all the stuff that made Castlevania fun like the level designs and enemy placement, they just used all the superficial stuff like the tropes and the themes. Slain is a turd coated in chocolate. If you think you can placebo yourself into thinking it’s all chocolate then by all means: munch away. Slain would have worked a hell of a lot better as something other than a game. If they had concentrated a bit more on the writing and made some kind of animated movie with the art design and assets it could’ve been something awesome but instead they made a game. They made a boring, heartless, poor excuse for an action game.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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