Merely Static Or…? Slender: The Arrival – Review
Do you enjoy being afraid? I know I do, and it’s rare to meet someone who isn’t in some way attracted to or intrigued by the supernatural or the macabre. The desire to believe that terrifying, unseen wonders exist around every corner of our ordinary world is not limited to children; these days, adults bantering about alien visitors inspiring ancient civilizations or crypto-zoologists trouping through the northern wilds in search of Bigfoot make for quite popular television. There is something undeniably tantalising about a heart-pounding break from the mundane comforts of modern life. And indeed, there is a primal, even addictive, quality to fear for which there is no substitute.
In this age of widespread information and, as a result, skepticism, we have found ourselves disillusioned with commonplace haunts like ghosts and goblins, and so we’ve done something incredible – we’ve created our own legends, our own icons of fear. Enter SlenderMan, sadistic brainchild of Victor Surge and the internet. The gangly, blank-faced entity looms at the forefront of a phenomenon known as “fakelore”: modern urban myths, conceived and nurtured by the global online community until they’ve transcended their human roots. SlenderMan became such a horror icon that he found new form in his very own survival-horror game, Slender: The Eight Pages, created by Mark Hadley in June 2012.
Less than a year later, SlenderMan creeps back onto the PC gaming scene in Slender: The Arrival. This new, more complex game is a joint effort between Hadley’s Prasec Productions and Torontonian indie game developer Blue Isle Studios, with a plot penned by the team behind the Marble Hornets video series. Considering that so many great minds were involved in its production, it’s no wonder that Slender: The Arrival does so much right.
Upon starting up the game, the first thing that players will notice is the incredibly creepy soundtrack; it sounds as if you’re witnessing an alien abduction, right out of The X-Files. The eerie ambient music is coupled with shrill, abrasive noises, similar to the high-pitched feedback that results from a microphone being held too close to a speaker. Your pulse is instantly quickened – a fitting testament to the adventure that lies ahead.
Slender: The Arrival is several hours long and comprised of five stages (that can be replayed from the Stage Selection screen upon completion), each with their own very distinct setting and atmosphere, and objectives that are at once straightforward and devilishly difficult. In one stage, you are exploring the woods at night seeking loose pages, à la Alan Wake. In another, you’re running frantically through a dark suburban house in the midst of a thunderstorm, desperately searching for open windows to close to prevent everyone’s favourite tall, white, and mysterious stranger from getting in. The plot (I won’t spoil it here) is revealed via documents such as printed emails, hand-written notes, and newspaper articles that you must search for and collect for your Scrapbook.
Appropriate to the world’s enduring obsession with horror flicks that appear to be home videos, you view the Slender world in first-person and through the lens of a camcorder. The camera’s battery meter (that depletes as the game progresses, which is ominous in itself) and familiar “REC” motif are visible at the edges of your screen throughout the game. Slender’s graphics are surprisingly striking and immersive for an independent PC game, beautifully rendered on the Unity Engine. The realistic quality of light, shadow, and fog is impressive. However, the constant motion of the camera combined with protruding grass and trees, hard-to-find doorways, and prominent darkness can sometimes become extremely disorienting, especially when you’re forced to flee. At times, I found myself stuck on trees and fences or running around in circles, leading to my imminent defeat.
As fans of The Eight Pages will already know, Slender is a relatively simple game with basic and intuitive mechanics. It cleverly appeals to human instinct – curiosity, caution, and fear. You can sprint, crouch, turn your flashlight on and off, and adjust your camera using keyboard controls that can be reassigned to suit your fancy. Any objects that can be picked up or examined and any doors that can be opened glow white. The game’s main allure, though, is the fact that you are constantly fleeing from SlenderMan, who appears seemingly at random and more frequently as you progress. His presence is announced by an ominous flicker of static on your screen, and you’ve no choice but to turn away and flee in the opposite direction until your camera rights itself again. If SlenderMan does catch you, your entire screen devolves into static that contains a sinister close-up of his telltale blank face and starched collar, and you must start the level all over again.
That being said, if you dislike repetition, then you will dislike Slender a whole lot, as (unless you are some superhuman survival-horror guru) you will inevitably be repeating each level multiple times. Furthermore, repeating levels does not give you much of an edge, as the layouts are different every time… and there’s no map. There are also no checkpoints, so death means that all of your painstaking progress is lost, and you’re kicked right back to the level’s initial loading screen. Repeating a stage as many as ten or more times with absolutely nothing to show can be maddening. Moreover, the more progress that you make, the more dangerous SlenderMan becomes – not only is he pursuing you more vigorously, but the locations in which he appears become closer to you and more sporadic. This sometimes results in his materialising directly on top of you, or in spots that render flight impossible (e.g. in the only exit of a tiny room). At first, this provides for some hilariously frightening jump-scares, but as time passes and the novelty wears off, players may begin to feel that this is unfair. Even in games that are notorious for their difficulty, it’s best that winning at least be conceivable, whether by skill or sheer luck. Slender, however, sometimes does not afford you the luxury of a fighting chance. Fear eventually becomes frustration. Rather than jumping out of your seat whenever SlenderMan appears, you find yourself cursing him under your breath as you bitterly head in a safer direction or concede to certain doom.
Any horror movie buff can attest to the terrors that appropriate music – and utter silence – can wreak on the psyche, and Slender: The Arrival uses the power of sound to its advantage. At just the right moments, the well-composed instrumentals lapse into tense quiet. In the hush, your echoing footsteps are chillingly magnified and so is the beating of your character’s heart. As you cautiously turn corners or fearfully tiptoe through doorways, you can clearly hear your character’s laboured breathing. She pants with exertion when she runs, and at times, she gasps with fear. It is a masterfully chilling addition to the game’s already chilling visual ambience.
Slender: The Arrival is not only a fitting homage to the horror-survival genre, but a tribute to the power of human imagination and how the online community has contributed to global lore. It is not farfetched to imagine that children will one day whisper of SlenderMan as they do of Bloody Mary or the monster under the bed. At only $10 on Mac or PC, Slender: The Arrival is a sound buy, especially if you’ve played and enjoyed Slender: The Eight Pages.
Final score: 4.25/5.0
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