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Slain: Back from Hell Review (PS4)

ss_b38eb9252846d7e03864e39c067605da76f43e13-1920x1080I didn’t play Slain in it’s original form, but since it was relaunched and re-branded as the “Back from Hell” edition it seems to have recovered from a shaky opening. If this is a heavy metal performance (and it kinda is), then nobody will be asking for their ticket money back now.

Slain is a 2D side scrolling platformer with great animation and tight controls. It’s difficult in a satisfying way, with frequent checkpoints but no let up in challenge. The level design is simple but punishing. The developers are willing to do you wrong, playing with rhythm and pacing to wrong-foot the player. You might hop over three swinging metal pendulums only to realise the fourth is slightly offset, throwing your timing off and resulting in your likely death. The first time. With a checkpoint so close by, you’re forewarned of the danger and second time through you won’t be tricked again. Although something else is probably waiting for you just ahead.

ss_eda8a4a2ea064a166579a67746e516b0ee20b2fd-1920x1080Sometimes you get a glimpse of the game Slain used to be in it’s previous life. There’s a block (and a timing based counter) that sometimes feels superfluous and sometimes feels essential. When you’re slogging your way through a flat section filled with skeletons, the sword based combat feels satisfying, with a push/pull between slow, steady countering, combos and well timed blocks balanced against the need to continually close the distance with ranged attackers. Once the platforming and the number of enemies increase though, blocking feels odd and there’s far more emphasis on dodging and precision jumping. Still, the variation in the play styles is a benefit rather than a fault.

I found Slain was best enjoyed in short-ish chunks, and when I started to tip over into frustration a break away from the game would help me view it in a more positive light when I came back. It can feel like a grind in protracted play, but coming back to it I often found the difficult sections were more manageable when I was fresh. The boss sections are also pretty good, and I would forget just how attractive a game Slain was when I became too focused on a particularly punishing section.

ss_63a2a801822967b31042eca06f593ded475c204e-1920x1080Despite the polish, there’s still a few areas where Slain disappoints. The enemies that fly through level geometry and damage you on contact (rather than damaging you when they hit you with a sword or axe) feel like they’re from a different game, and aren’t fun opponents to fight against. And despite the “Heavy Metal” setting of the game (which is fine, if a little derivative), the games audio is weak. Repetitive metal riffs sound like free samples from an audio library (and low bit rate audio at that) and the sound effects lack meatiness.

Still, Slain remains a largely enjoyable, challenging-yet-fair experience. And considering its history, the most impressive thing about the game is how slick and solid the whole game feels. The spot-on controls, balanced difficulty and smooth pacing make this not only one of the most improved games of 2016, but one of the best 2D platformers I’ve played this year.

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