There’s a New Horror in Town: Slender Review
This game was reviewed on the PC
Slenderman, for the uninitiated, is an internet-created specter whose modus operandi consists of stalking individuals by hanging around in inconspicuous areas, showing up in and tampering with personally shot videos, and generally driving the victim insane. He – or perhaps it would be more accurate – is slender, tall, faceless, and, in most depictions, has long, tentacular arms and noodle-y fingers. The fact that he’s most commonly shown in a dark suit and tie makes a comparison to Half-Life’s G-man unavoidable.
Slender marks Slenderman’s first depiction in a video game. His initial appearance was in a Something-Awful Photoshop contest, which immediately drew attention and spawned countless imitators. Far from plagiarism, most of the imitators have given Slenderman his most recognizable features as well as his most terrifying traits. The video series Marble Hornets and Everyman Hybrid are two of the more popular – and longest running – Slenderman film depictions, and they are freely available on YouTube.
It makes a certain sort of sense that Slender is free to play and based on the Unity Engine since, at its core, the Slenderman mythos (as the various still photo depictions, video series, and now video games are collectively known as) is a cooperative venture. Every new depiction in every new medium shows the subject in a slightly different way, and so far there haven’t been any issues with copyright infringement or any claim on the material. It is a beast released to the whim of the internet, and the effect has been incredible.
Now that the subject matter has been properly introduced, we can delve a bit deeper into the game itself. Slender is an intensely minimalistic game. At the start, a slow introductory panel peels across the screen, scrawling Slender in large, irregular letters. Then a flashlight clicks on, and you’re in the woods. The only direction you’re given at any point is “Find all 8 pages.” Behind you is a fence; in front of you is a fork in the road. From then on, it’s totally up to you. Interspersed throughout the woods are landmarks, some of which recall the YouTube video series – such as a large round tower which hearkens to the creepy red tower in Marble Hornets – and it’s on these landmarks that most of the pages are found. Tacked to trees, taped to rusty, abandoned trucks, hidden in bathrooms (or buildings that vaguely resembled bathrooms; it isn’t terribly clear what function that specific landmark serves) and at various other points on the map, the pages spawn in a random pattern, never really staying in the same place. Playing through one time, you may find five pages in a row, but then the next time – and there will almost always be a next time – you might not find any in those same places.
Whatever the case, each time you find a new page, the game gets a little harder and a little more frightening. Where before, the sound was only ambient, the crunch of footsteps or the croaking of an odd cricket, finding and taking the first page starts a booming drumbeat. This continues for the duration of the game until you either find all eight pages or Slenderman gets you. Each time you grab a new page, the game adds a small layer of music. The drumbeat starts it off, and soon an ambient layer of background music that sounds like mistakes in an audio recording – hisses, pops and scratches – adds to it. The effect is, in a word, terrifying. The music and the sound are treated with a deft and very light touch; each is just enough to add to the experience rather than distract from it. Another effect of finding the pages is that, inevitably, Slenderman starts showing up. Every time you look in his general direction, the screen pops and hisses like a TV losing signal – a nice touch and another reference to the various film series – and Slendy’s odd, elongated form edges into your field of view from behind a tree or other landmark.
It isn’t possible to really relate just how terrifying this really is. Slenderman seems to teleport, but never when you’re looking at him and never in a place where you can initially see him. The first sign is the screen fizzing, and from there it’s wise to turn away and run in the other direction. Sometimes this is enough to temporarily rid yourself of him, and other times it just earns an exhausting pursuit. In either case, Slenderman isn’t gone for long.
Slender, on top of being one of the most positively frightening games I’ve ever played, is also one of the hardest. You’ve got no defenses against Slenderman aside from running in pants-wetting terror, and there’s no escape from the small arena in which you’re expected to find the pages. Even if you manage to evade Slendy long enough to find most of the pages, the randomness in the spawning of each means that you’re never really sure where to find the next one. It’s therefore not uncommon to find yourself seven pages in and simply fleeing from the relentless pursuit. Sometimes Slenderman’s teleporting seems to center on the remaining pages, so even knowing the location is no guarantee that you can get to them.
With respect to the limited scope of the game – it is a free release which might take as long as an hour to download on a slow connection – there’s not really much to say in the negative. The one thing I wish would have been included was an element of storytelling. There’s no reason to be in the woods searching for the pages, and not really a hint anywhere in the game about why you’re there. Furthermore, the pages themselves are incoherent nonsense, and any opportunity to tell some sort of story about the pursuit is lost in the mad scribbling of each page. It’s worth it to point out that the pages conform to the Slenderman mythos fairly tightly, but in transitioning from a purely visual medium – like film – to an interactive one demands a bit more liberty.
One point against that will only make a difference to an adherent of Slenderman’s burgeoning folklore is that Slender doesn’t really add anything to the mythos. Slenderman’s behavior is cobbled together from all the other sources; although it is a very effective horror game, I can’t really count it as one of the pillars of the mythos. But as a first appearance in a video game, Slender is an impressive and clever game that promises a much more substantial entry in the future.
Until then, I’m going to keep looking for pages until my flashlight battery runs out.
Slender earns a 4.75 out of 5.
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