It’s been a great year for the horror genre, especially on the PC. While long-running AAA titles flounder to stay relevant, smaller indie games have come out from the shadows to scare the living daylights out of us. Games like Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and Outlast have taught us the meaning of dread once again.
Before the year ends, we’re treated to yet another indie title based on the popular Slender Man meme. Now I’m a bit out of touch with creepy internet in-jokes, but it seems like this is the modern boogeyman only far more horrifying. Naturally, the internet jumped onto the idea and began Photoshopping this suspiciously tall guy in various images. Can a game based on this simple idea be both terrifying and satisfying? We gave the Slender Man a hug and lived to tell the tale.
Given the budget nature of Slender: The Arrival, the story is told through vague notes picked up throughout the game rather than voice acting and scripted cutscenes. You play as Lauren who visits her friend, Kate, only to find her house abandoned and in a mess. Drawings of stick figures and crazy words scratched into surfaces accompany you for most of the game thanks to Kate, in case your encounters with the tall guy aren’t scary enough.
Thus the player must traverse across six chapters in search of Kate, filled with tasks, while learning what exactly happened. It’s short and there’s hardly any insight into the player’s character, Lauren, but the narrative is sinister and quite disturbing once you’re invested and read all the notes and clues scattered throughout the game. Slender does a satisfactory job at providing a story that gives purpose to the game, rather than just throwing the player in a ghost house maze, even if it’s a fairly bare bones experience.
Slender: The Arrival uses the successful first-person formula of other survival horror games and has the player run around with a flashlight gathering notes and interacting with objects, complete with the camera HUD. There are, however, no puzzle elements in the game but instead has you activate switches and finding keys, for example. While trying to do this, the game throws everything it can to scare the hell out of you. Slender’s appearance is incredibly startling, moreso than other closet horror games purely because of the random and loud nature.
He teleports around you, distorting the screen and blasting twisted audio into your ears. If you have heart problems, stay right away from this even if you’re not that scared because every time he appears in your field of vision (or right in front of you) you can’t prevent your ticker from skipping a beat. This effect is magnified with head phones and only the bravest will play this at midnight with the sound right up.
So the game is scary to a degree, but how does it handle while you’re screaming like a little girl trying to get away? Incredibly frustrating. Player movement is one of the most sluggish I’ve experienced in an FPS-type game with a nauseating head bob of someone running home from the bar. You see, the fear starts to wear off once you die several times due to unresponsive movement, not being able to see anything when Slender gets too close and having to run around in circles for thirty minutes trying to find your objective. Worse, there is an invisible stamina limit and you’ll be hitting it during every sprint wishing you could run just a bit faster.
The level design isn’t a problem, but getting your bearings is. I like to think my sense of direction isn’t that bad but Slender: The Arrival had me hopelessly lost in a couple of its areas, no longer scared but increasingly frustrated. At least give us a “You Are Here” map!
One aspect that’s interesting is the random nature of some of the levels, meaning it’s not a simple exercise in trial and error when you die. Items you have to collect might appear in different locations or the player might spawn on the other side of the level. This is a double-edged sword as while it gives the game some re-playability, the flaws mentioned make it infuriating at times.
As a downloadable indie title, there’s very little to complain about here. Running on the Unity engine, the game is terrifyingly dark and oozes with atmosphere. The occasional level sees the player wander outside during the daylight which is both pretty and still very eerie. The Slender Man himself is faithfully recreated while the player’s vision is broken up by feedback every time he appears. While annoying when it gets too frequent, this distortion effect is almost perfectly done.
The sound design contributes greatly to the fear factor in pretty much every horror game. Just turn the sound off and see how important it is. Slender: The Arrival sounds absolutely horrifying to the point where I was wanting to just play the game with some audio coming from the speakers. It’s that scary.
Every distortion effect is backed up by shrilling sound, the player constantly breathes heavily and the ambient music is ever-present, like an unbeknownst actor about to check the cupboard in an old horror movie . Having said that, the music can get a little much and I feel like it could be more effective when used sparingly. After all, it’s rare when there is complete silence around the player.
Slender: The Arrival is a worthy attempt at a brief horror experience and is one that succeeds in capturing the essence of the Slender Man meme. It managed to scare the pants off me and wish for a fleeting second that I didn’t have to review games! While it excels in atmosphere, it unfortunately suffers from overly simple gameplay, frustrating mechanics and a very short length. If you’re looking for a small but scary romp and you’ve exhausted the other bigger titles, by all means give this a go. It’s at a budget price and it’ll do the job it’s made to do; make you mash the pause button every few minutes.
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