Monday, September 26, 2016

Slain: Back From Hell (PS4)

Finally! Slain has made it to the PS4!!! Well, at least it did last week. I know I'm a little late to the show, but I've been waiting quite a while to get my hands on this game, and see what it's all about. Was I disappointed? Not really. Digerati Distribution, the masterminds behind this Metroidvania homage have done the genre justice. Slain may not have the deepest of stories, but the attention to detail, and the overall experience included lives up to the hype that surrounded it's initial release.

At the heart of the hardcore horror fantasy tale is a long dead hero named Bathoryn who is summoned once again by his spirit guide to fight the forces of evil led by Lord Vroll. Though stubborn at first this dude of metal morals sojourns forth braving the odds in the form of perilous landscapes, and vile enemies. As the gamer you will take control of Bathoryn, and guide him along as you face the threat of instant environmental death, death by the hands (er, claws) of minions, and even that of the dastardly larger than life boss creatures that look as if they were torn out of someone's nightmares. With your sword, spirit magic, and capabilities as a tried and true warrior you will deal with all this, or suffer the consequences of your inability to do so. It is an unapologetic, and challenging game in the light of older Metroidvania platformers much like the early Castlevanias, Chakan the Forever Man, and even Altered Beast. Along with said challenge comes a symphonic heavy metal soundtrack, tons of blood, and plenty of gory bits. If you like your Metroidvanias maturer, and hardcore you'll no doubt enjoy what Slain has to offer!

When it comes to gameplay in "Slain: Back From Hell" things are fairly simple, and straightforward. As Bathoryn you wield a large sword. With this sword you can hack and slash your way through the minions of darkness in a sort of combo manner. Doing so is done by pressing, or by spamming the "SQUARE" button on your Dualshock4 controller. Aside from this basic attack the sword can also be used to block against projectiles, strike projectiles to send them flying back to the enemy that shot them, and parry. To block you can either press "TRIANGLE" before a physical melee attack is to make contact with Bathoryn causing a hit stun, or you can hold down the same button to absorb the impact of the projectile or incoming melee attack. In the case where you block right as a melee attack lands you will trigger a hit stun which can be followed up with the pressing of the "SQUARE" button for a 'Critical Strike'. This is the parry mechanic I spoke of a moment ago. Successfully killing an enemy with a critical strike will release mana orbs which will refill your mana meter allowing you to shoot 'Mana Spirits" projectiles using "R1", or cast a 'Mana Blast' with "R1 + DOWN" if you have a full mana meter. Said "Mana Blast" will effectively kill off surrounding enemies.

Holding the block button is also an effective means of negating damage in regards to the sword blocking mechanics, but the more you get hit while blocking the more damage Bathoryn will take. Also in regards to the sword mechanics is the ability to charge the sword attack by holding down the "SQUARE" button for greater damage. Timing is of importance though as enemies constantly advance towards Bathoryn. Aside from those things Bathoryn can also be moved in a similar fashion as to older Metroidvanias. You can set the controls to use the 'DPad' for a more traditional feel, or use the default setting of the 'Left Thumbstick' which isn't all that bad itself. The movement in my opinion is more responsive, and polished than the games I compared Slain to. It's not too loose, and it's not too restrictive. Along with the basic means of movement Bathoryn can also perform a 'Mighty Leap', or rather a basic jump. This is done by pressing "X" on the controller when needed. There's also a back dash mechanic tied to "L1" which is better used for evasion when getting up close, and personal with a more sluggish, or slow moving creature.

When it comes to level playthroughs you will be heading from left to right, and down to up (Vice Versa) in traditional Metroidvania style as you fight off enemies, and dodge the many death traps laid out before you. Things like blood pits, spikes, pitfalls with spears, and other similarly treacherous things will come between you and your goal. Some meaning instantaneous death, and a red moon "Slain" screen (as apposed to "Game Over"). The levels themselves aren't that lengthy though, and the main challenge comes from the way you approach the enemies, and the way you deal with the platforming elements. Those elements including things like switches, elevators, and other toggles tied to blockades that open up the level access even more. There are even hidden secret areas where you'll have to defeat special creatures that unlock a piece of a special medallion. Aside from the platforming elements you'll also encounter enemies of varying sorts ranging from lowly minion types to sub-bosses, and even main boss creatures with health meters that reflect their place in the demonic hierarchy. Luckily you won't have to start over from the beginning of the level if you can cross the path of a beacon which will act as a checkpoint from which you can begin anew upon unfortunate demise. There's this, and meter refill power-ups like that of hearts, and angels which will refill your meters, and allow Bathoryn to continue his journey towards a final fight against Lord Vroll.

Visually the game is stunning. The pixel art is very impressive on many levels, and definitely holds in it that hardcore metal, and horror theme that the game seems to be inspired by. My only complaint if any is that the character dialogue which shows up in awkward text form at the beginning, and latter parts of the game could have been better written, better displayed, and made better fitting of the game's underlying theme. The typed words felt a little too lighthearted, and didn't make the battle at hand seem as badass as it could have been. It was a little too "English" for my tastes as a metal lover, and could have used some "German", "Swedish", or other such country's metal inspiration. That is an opinion though. As far as the soundtrack goes it was equally as impressive as the applied pixel art in it's own way. It complimented the gameplay at hand, and never felt out of place. I'm personally glad it was more instrumental than vocal as it did not distract from the objective playthroughs by being that way. Before I forget I should also mention the CRT scan filters which you can apply from the 'Options' menu. This adds CRT TV lines that seemingly amplify the eerie feel of Slain's more horrific features. I think there are two different CRT filters to choose from. Each with their own scan line intensity. Needless to say there's definitely a lot to take in both visually, and audibly as you play through "Slain: Back From Hell".

The Verdict ...

I loved this game! Plain, and simple. Outside of my nagging complaint about the textual dialogue I found nothing really wrong with the game. It was Metroidvania at it's purest, and most metal. The blood, the gore, the pixel art, and the accompanying soundtrack all complimented each other quite nicely. I loved the feel, and responsiveness of the controls. I also loved the level design, and the character/creature design. Even the applied mechanics, though simple were effective in making this game shine. It is a game that I can wholeheartedly recommend as a "Must Buy!!!". DO NOT miss out!!!

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