ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE
So, let’s just get right to the heart of things, shall we? I really wanted to like Slain: Back From Hell. I really, really did. After all, from the earliest days in my gaming career, I have always loved me some spooky-themed videogames. From Haunted House on the Atari 2600 forward, any game that even hinted at having a touch of the supernatural appealed to me, considerably increasing my desire to play it. Sometimes this pursuit served me well, giving me gaming experiences that I would treasure throughout my life, while other times it would only end up in massive disappointment, causing me to curse the very genre that I am so enamored with. Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, I verily say unto to you that Slain sadly falls into that latter camp.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
Now, Slain starts off well enough, with an introduction that finds our protagonist, Bathoryn, being raised from his grave by a spirit who charges him with cleansing the land of evil. Upon exiting his tomb, you’re greeted with a crap-ton of macabre visuals (in indie gaming’s favorite pixelated visual style, of course), creepy enemies, and a soundtrack of hard rockin’ METAL composed by former Celtic Frost guitarist, Curt Victor Bryant. The presentation is certainly legit, and the promise of carving your way through the game’s various spooky locales and enemies really fired me up. Unfortunately, though, after a few minutes of play, my enthusiasm began to be curbed (curb STOMPED was more like it, actually), as frustration began to set in and started chipping away at what little patience I had to give.
GIT GUD, BRUH!
Perhaps more than anything, patience is the key here, folks. The gameplay in Slain suffers from the Dark Souls affliction, and requires you to memorize every little thing you encounter as you progress through the game. You have 1 life (with which you can only take 3 or 4 hits from enemies before taking a dirtnap), and must face a slew of enemies that are tougher than you are, stages with several points of instadeath, and bosses that leave absolutely no room for error. Hell, it’s probably more appropriate to say that the entire game leaves no room for error. Put simply, this is a game of memorization that requires a whole boatload of patience.
Bathoryn controls well enough and I’m a fan of the simplistic control scheme (jump, attack, slide, special move), but every attack you make must be quite calculated; there’s no “run & gun” gameplay to be found here at all. I don’t particularly happen to enjoy this type of slow, methodical gameplay in my action platformers, and coupled with the “@$!# you” difficulty, the aforementioned patience needed to survive this title dissolved from me at a rapid rate.
In the game’s defense, it does offer checkpoints throughout the stages. These checkpoints not only autosave your progress, but also allow you to start back at that location after you inevitably get ganked. The reaching of these checkpoints is quite an achievement in itself, and really helps to give you that “Okay, ONE more try” motivation. This is a step-up from the painfully difficult 8-bit and 16-bit days of gaming that Slain’s developers pine for, with titles that all too often offered no relief, forcing you to replay entire swaths of the game upon death. Still, though, in the end, it just wasn’t enough to keep me playing and suffering through Slain’s abusive level and enemy design, and at 23% game completion, I was DONE.
I really wanted to see all that Slain had to offer (especially in the audiovisual/atmosphere department), but without a way to decrease the difficulty, it just wasn’t to be for me. “Back in the day” I probably would have put in the effort to see it through to the end, but with 40 years of gaming under my belt, I don’t care about the masochistic “street cred” that comes with completing games like this. In short, I just can’t be bothered.