I put olives in my bolognese. Olives, objectively, do not belong in a bolognese. But without fail, I’ll dunk half a jar of those salty little bad boys into my bubbling wok without hesitation. Peppers? Why not. Carrot? Absolutely. Spinach? Don’t mind if I do. My bolognese is about as authentically Italian as Super Mario, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to make Massimo Bottura cry by reminding him of his nonna’s cooking. It’s a dreary Tuesday night and I’m craving my olive-laden concoction. I’m making this bolognese just for me.
Slayers X: Terminal Aftermath: Vengance of the Slayer reminded me a lot of my bolognese. It’s a game created for particular tastes, a unique proposition that sort of defies conventional thinking. A big, bold swing that - if you have the palate for it - is absolutely brilliant.
But before we can talk about Slayers X (I’m not typing out the full name every time, sorry) in any meaningful way, we have to pick apart a few of its layers first. Set within the same alternate reality as 2019s Hypnospace Outlaw, Slayers X is a retro-inspired first-person shooter that stars Zane “Zane_Rocks_14” Lofton, a teenage edge lord and one of the more memorable characters to feature in that game’s depiction of early 90s online communities. After his mom and mentor are killed by the twisted Psyko Syndikate, Zane - the last remaining member of the superhuman team X SLAYERS - sets out to save the city of Boise, Idaoh from this cybernetic threat.
Except, Slayers X isn’t just a straightforward shooter based on the world of Hypnospace. It’s actually positioned as a game created by Zane himself, one that he and a friend started making in 1998 while the pair were still in high school. In 2023, the now 38-year-old Zane has decided to finish the project, working on Slayers X alongside his job as the manager of the local Dollar Saver. It’s a form of kayfabe that developer Jay Tholen has been diligent in maintaining since the game’s reveal, tweeting and providing interviews with the press in character as this older (but still provocative) version of Zane Lofton.
So what we have here is not just a simple spin-off, then. This is a game that both stars and has been developed by a fictional character, set within a fictionalised representation of an already fictional world. It is a preposterous concept for a game, especially one delivered with such a straight face, and yet - somehow - it works.
It’s easy to believe that Slayers X was designed by a teenager in the late 90s, because it is aggressively obnoxious in a way that only 15-year-olds are capable of being. Enemies are school book doodles come to life. Grinning assassins rocking a classic trench coat no shirt combo. Screeching floating brains wearing fetching jester hats. Piles of poo that perish with a sad fart. Werewolves in jorts wielding rocket launchers. Green goo lines the streets. Underground bases consist of rusted metal panels, featureless corridors and rooms packed with decaying machinery, their internals exposed in a manner that feels distinctly 90s.
Weapons clearly prioritise appearance over functionality. Dual pistols. A grenade launcher that spawns friendly rats. A staff shaped like the game’s logo that, once infused with magical Hack Blood Energy, emits beams of deadly green light. A shotgun that shoots loose shards of glass. The game is riddled with spelling errors. Zane’s one-liners are built primarily on the foundations of the word “turds” and “your mom” jokes. And all of this is punctuated by an (excellent) emo-metal soundtrack composed by Seepage, Hypnospace’s Linkin Park analogue.
As a former dweeby teenager myself, I assumed Slayers X would prove too much to stomach, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many are nauseated by its commitment to the bit. But much like the game’s concept, there are layers to this world that lend it a surprisingly earnest sincerity. While sentient piles of squelching shit and dumb one-liners are obvious inclusions, it’s the game’s world that truly convinces you that a socially outcast 15-year-old designed this game.
Zane, like many of us were at his age, is a kid with a very narrow worldview. Levels flip-flop between mundane, everyday spaces like supermarkets or apartment buildings and hidden underground bases filled with weird machines and twisted traps. There is no in-between. You are either fighting Psykos at the Boise Potato Festival or infiltrating their super secret lair. It speaks to a period of youth that will no doubt feel relatable, where your imagination far exceeds the limited experience you’ve accumulated so far. It lends Slayers X an authenticity I wasn’t expecting, a lens that makes the world seem smaller and more intimate. Compact trailer parks. Grey supermarkets. Enormous mansions with featureless interiors. Would Zane, who lives in a run-down flat, know what the interior of a larger house looks like? Is this a depiction of a reality he exists within, or one he’s merely imagined?
None of this is explicitly acknowledged, mind. That’s kind of the beauty of it. Its subtlety. The only exception to this is Melvin, teenage Zane’s manager who also serves as the game’s antagonist. A conniving caricature, it’s quickly established that Melvin has recently started to date Zane’s Mom, a pairing Zane clearly disagrees with. There’s a tinge of concern and sadness behind Melvin’s villainous depiction that I'm sure many will find relatable.
Don’t get me wrong, this is still a purposefully unpleasant game to spend time with, but that’s sort of the brilliance of it. I’m unashamed to admit that as a teenager who used to wear a dog lead on his baggy jeans in an effort to look edgy, I found Slayers X to be a hilarious depiction of a very specific part of my life. There’s no ill intent here, just a nostalgic honesty that really resonates.
And as a throwback retro-inspired shooter, it sings. Weapons feel weighty, enemy variety keeps things challenging, maps are looping and stuffed full of secrets. You’d be fooled into thinking this was a build engine game, such are the lengths the team have gone to replicate the level deformation and visual stylings that made Duke Nuken 3D so distinctive. It’s impressive stuff.
I will say though that, as a Hypnospace spin-off, it could potentially leave hardcore fans a little cold. Outside of a few parodies of brands found in Hypnospace (which were, in themselves, surreal parodies of real-world brands, so try to wrap your head around that one) and Zane himself, there’s little to chew on here. I imagine this was an intentional choice to make Slayers X more appealing to those unfamiliar with the game it stems from, but it is a shame to not see a little more of that world I love so deeply represented here in a more substantial form.
I don’t make my bolognese for guests very often, but when I do opinions are often mixed. My partner thinks olives don’t belong in a bolognese, whereas a friend says their inclusion completely changed their life (or, at the very least, the way they now prepare saucy italian dishes). Not for everyone, then. But you can get an authentic bolognese anywhere. Isn’t it worth making one with olives in it just because that suits your specific tastes? And if someone else out there finds it as delicious as you do, isn’t that reason enough for it to exist in the first place?
This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the publisher No More Robots.