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Slain! review for PC

Platform: PC
Publisher: Digerati Distribution
Developer: Wolf Brew Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: M

I was really, really looking forward to Slain! after the first screenshot I saw. I’m a big Castlevania fan of course, and I’m a sucker for retro-inspired action games/platformers, so Slain! would appear to right up my alley. So imagine my surprise when I found my enjoyment of the game dwindling after just a few short minutes spent with it.

First off, I love the look of Slain!. The developers have really nailed the heavy metal aesthetic here, and regardless of how I feel about the actual gameplay, I never got tired of seeing the game on screen. The animations are pretty solid, I love the detail given to the elemental effects for the fire sword and ice axe, and I generally enjoy the monster designs even if it does get a little repetitive. I find very little to fault with the look of Slain!, which stays true to its theme throughout.

slain titleBut playing Slain! Is a whole different thing. Combat is the biggest offender here, which unfortunately is also the focal point of the game. There’s some platforming involved, but it certainly isn’t the main mechanic of Slain!. The issue with combat is that everything feels somewhat sluggish. I’d imagine some of that is intentional, your main character is a guy wielding either a giant broadsword or a big axe, so naturally there’s some heft to the swing. Timing swings isn’t impossible, but strikes rarely feel like they connect right. Occasionally you’ll stun an enemy, sometimes you won’t. There’s not enough consistency to your strikes to make anything feel predictable or satisfying.

That’s compounded by the fact that most enemies can take a dumb amount of damage before going down. Even baseline skeletons take a handful of hits before crumbling, and the larger enemies you’ll encounter down the road are downright ridiculous. Because of this, you’ll open yourself up to a lot of damage unless you’re willing to jump in, swing a couple times, and slide back out. Doing this will keep you alive, but it’s not a fun way to play the game. I’m not asking for Slain! to be a cakewalk, but I’d like my encounters to be a bit more brief and interesting, as opposed to something that induces an internal sigh every time I have to engage an enemy.

slain 001Level design in Slain! fares a bit better, but not by much. Most of the platform jumping is fairly mindless, but the switch hitting feels like an unnecessary nuisance. Occasional puzzles pop up here and there, but they take what is already a plodding experience and further grinds the action to a halt. The actual structure of most stages is either built around a vertical or horizontal set-up, where you’ll be traversing outdoor areas from side to side, or moving up through towers filled with floating enemies that aren’t that different from medusa heads or other 2D action game staples. There’s some moments where elements blend into the background a little too much, making it easy to miss a platform or trap, sending you to your death.

While the penalty for death isn’t much in Slain!, having to sit through a few seconds of the death screen every time gets old quick. Checkpointing is frequent enough that you don’t tend to lose a ton of progress, but the game could do a better job of letting you know when it has actually saved your progress. Since a few encounters can feel like boss fights but aren’t, it’s best to be doubly sure that you’ve ended a level before backing out of the game entirely.

slain 002Another area of Slain! that can be a bit hit or miss is the soundtrack. I mostly enjoyed it, the metal tunes certainly match the look and mood of the game quite well. But at times the music feels a little overpowering, especially in relation to the sound effects which don’t mix well with the loud guitar thrashing. It’s hard to hear much of anything in the game over the soundtrack, which is unfortunate. Also, I don’t feel like the tracks loop particularly well, for whatever reason I certainly took notice every time a track started over.

On the plus side, since the launch of Slain! last week it would appear as if the developers are actively listening to players and absorbing feedback on a number of issues. Ideally there are elements here that can be fixed, provided they have the time, money, and knowledge to do so. I’d love to see Slain! round off some of the rough edges. I can’t imagine that everything is fixable, but I certainly think there’s some semblance of a good game underneath all the grime that could potentially shine through here. At the moment, however, I can’t reasonably recommend the game as a must play kind of experience, but I hope that things will improve in the coming months.

Grade: C