Slain! Preview – Bloody, Gore-Soaked Pixels
Bloody doesn’t even begin to describe Slain!. From what I saw in the very early preview of the game, the world is practically soaked in blood – crimson droplets raining down from every platform. That’s probably from the last set of clumsy adventurers who’d dared to walk through the monster-filled lands, or who’d been careless around the heavy, brutal traps hidden in old castles and crumbling keeps. Magic, your sword, and your footwork are all you can count on to stay alive in Wolfbrew Games’ sidescrolling hack and slasher, and from what I saw in the preview, those will all be tested.
The first thing I noticed about the game was its look. The pixel art style of the game creates a violent, decayed world of vicious monsters. Walls crumble amidst the dying grasses, and rotten old doors creak on ancient hinges as you cross the dying countryside. In the distance, you can see other ruins and fields of petrified trees. Nature seems to recoil from this place and the things that creep through it. Inside, dark halls are literally covered in blood. The second stage drips it from every single surface, leaving you to wonder what happened here. The game’s stages make it impossible not to know that something awful is happening to this land, and even in an early preview, it’s got a sickening beauty to it.
You only have to look to the varied monsters to figure out what happened here. Bat-like creatures with bloody hooks for arms wrench themselves from the earth. Floating, mummified heads spit globs of boiling blood as you pass, tearing themselves from nests of purple, bruised flesh. Vampires and banshees wail as they fly through dead halls, hands outstretched while they blindly grasp at anything living. Masses of rotting skin clutch together around rows of teeth, wriggling their way across bloodstained floors. Their behaviors are familiar to anyone who’s played old action games, but their designs are new and fresh, unlike anything I’ve seen set in pixels before. Sure, there are skeletons and some old familiar creatures, but for the most part, Wolfbrew Games’ monster designs are all unique and look disgusting.
What’s a long-haired warrior to do besides start walking left to right, cutting up these things as you go? The preview build didn’t contain much of the plot, but I didn’t need much reason to fight back beyond “these things are going to cut off your face,” so off I went. The main character, Bathoryn, has three separate sword swings, striking overhead, across, or low. The preview build didn’t demonstrate much need for specific strikes as most of the monsters I ran into were the same height, so any strike was good enough to send heads flying. Keeping with the rest of the game’s style, your attacks all have catastrophic effects on the bodies of your enemies. I literally had a pile of heads lying around me from monsters I’d killed within the first few minutes. They fall to chopped pieces, explode with gore, and generally die in horrible ways when you’re done with them.
Then again, the player does as well. The preview build was pretty hard, and enemies are relentless in looking to see you dead. The game has no block function, but your sword’s range trumps many initial attacks from the monsters. Still, if I slipped up and attacked a little too late, they would be right on top of me, and I’d need to move to get a new vantage point to attack. They will tear you up if you try to trade hits with them, which makes sense when you’re fighting against monsters with bone hooks for arms. It’s probably best to keep your distance.
There is a magic attack if you’re in real trouble that will clear the screen. It charges based off of pickups you get from certain enemies, and once it’s full you can launch a screen-clearing blast that will save your life quite a few times. The developers promise a few more attacks for when the magic bar isn’t all the way full, but they weren’t quite ready for this build. Still, that huge blast was a lifesaver.
Magic can’t save you from the various traps in the game’s world, though. To break up combat, there are various pits and mechanisms you can fall into that will kill you on contact. Not exactly unusual for the genre, but Slain!‘s visual style doesn’t make these deaths boring or simple. When you fall into a pit, a huge worm hurtles up and devours you whole, viscera splashing from its razor teeth. When a trap slams down from the ceiling, you can see it smear the player across the floor, leaving trails of mashed body as it recoils back into its original position. This game is relentless with its gore, but this also provides a hint of the impending danger. If you see blood smears on the walls, watch out for a hidden trap. Don’t be clumsy like a certain previewer and blunder into it yourself.
Keeping your guts inside of your body while fighting the bosses was a challenge. These huge warriors look great in Wolfbrew Games’ art style, all looking like Frazetta paintings or old Conan covers done in pixels. Giant thorn beasts and axe-wielding barbarians towered over me, animated beautifully while they cut me down. The preview bosses didn’t hit much harder than the other monsters, but there was so much going on while fighting them that they were hard to overcome. I was given glimpses of a phantom woman and another warrior as I played, hints of future creatures that would likely be spilling my blood and adding it to the dripping corridors.
With a name like Slain!, you expect a certain level of violence, and Wolfbrew Games delivers with some brutal visuals and bloody combat. It looks incredible in its own gore-soaked way, bringing a dying countryside to visual life through some powerful pixel art. It will be interesting to see what other places will be added in the game’s full projected release in March 2015, and to see what other nuances will be added to the dangerous combat. The current build is already strong, if relentless, and should be something that violent action gamers look forward to as its release creeps closer.