Slain is a gothic 2D hack 'n' slash platformer. It pulls off the aesthetic style with suitable aplomb, as one might expect from a game where the main selling points are lovely-looking pixel-art and a heavy metal soundtrack.
It's difficult as hell and it knows it, as exemplified by the inclusion of achievements dedicated to your first death as well as your 500th. This is a title where you can and will die at the hands of both a standard skeleton minion, and the largest demon boss. It's tough, sure, but alas the challenge isn't as wholesome as you might like.
You play as Bathoryn, a long dead hero that lives in this gothic pixel-art world, awoken by spirits to save the world from demons. It might not be hugely original, but the story that the action hangs off does the job (although the writing that delivers the story is pretty terrible in places). You battle your way through seven lands and at the end of each you ascend that section's tower, all the while facing skeletal enemies, demons and various horrors. On top of all the standard hack and slashery there's also Slain's many platforming puzzles, which must be overcome before facing the boss found at the top of the tower.
The game's largest positive point is the atmosphere. Wolf Brew has done an excellent job in creating a suitable mood through the use of music, which while a bit repetitive, fits the lovely pixelated visual style like a glove. It's pleasing to the eye, and the heavy use of blues mixed with lighter colours emphasises the gothic theme, and this visual style combined well with the heavy metal soundtrack composed by Çağlar Şahin.
However, it's the sound design where the game also begins to go downhill. While the background music itself is heavy and meaty, the combat audio effects are not. At best it sounds as though your character is lightly slapping his foes with the flat side of his sword, rather than hacking his way through them. This impacts the feel of the game massively, chipping away at the sense of presence within the world; nothing the character does seems to have any weight behind it. Jumping is floaty, attacks are limp, and he gets knocked around by just coming into contact with an enemy. He's not as badass as his pixelated avatar would suggest.
Another major gripe of ours is the controls. At the beginning of the game there is no tutorial and you have to work things out for yourself through trial and error, and then, once you've sussed it out, you have to get used to the fact that there's a slight delay on each attack. Ultimately combat usually boils down to nothing more than brainless button tapping, and while Slain does let you dodge there is, again, a slight delay so you can't rely on reflexes to save you if you get in a pickle. The delay on movement isn't a design choice, but rather the effect of input lag, however, Wolf Brew has said that they are going to fix this in their first patch (our advice if you do get the game: play with a controller, the lag is much less noticeable).
While there is a second set of attacks in the form of magic, they essentially boil down to a ranged stun and an area of attack ability that will kill most of the enemies on screen. These attacks use up mana, which is limited but can be recovered from decapitating enemies or grabbing pick-ups as you progress. Again, it's another element that we wanted to see elaborated on.
The difficulty that was mentioned earlier unfortunately does not come from skill-based gameplay, but rather from the often confined level design that's over-populated by enemies, making it impossible to move without near perfect timing. This combined with traps that blend into the background makes for frustrating gameplay where you often feel cheated into death. Perhaps the devs were aiming for a Dark Souls like brutal difficulty curve, but often the challenge comes from dirty tricks played on the player, like lowering ceilings to make leaping between platforms needlessly perilous.
Slain is a game that gets the goth-metal theme spot on, and as you can see in the screenshots added to this review, it looks bloody brilliant. Wolf Brew knows how to deliver a foreboding atmosphere, unfortunately that's where the positives end. This is a game with plenty of potential, let down by clunky controls and frustrating level design. It's a case of style over content, which is a shame because this could have been great. In a blogpost on Steam the developers acknowledge that the game should have gone into Early Access and tell us that it'll be in better shape in two or three months, but considering it's not and they're charging full price for a game with plenty of issues, we've not choice but to give it the score that it currently deserves.
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