You'll be needing those spare pants.
Slender: The Arrival Got Right
- + Simple gameplay
- + Genuinely scary
- + Slender expanded into a full experience
Slender: The Arrival Got Wrong
- - Story feels incomplete
- - A little rough and buggy
Last year, the tall, formal-attired spectre of the Slenderman stalked us through the woods in the character’s first game prototype, Slender: The Eight Pages. Despite its simplicity, the game was an effective piece of survival horror (evident with our session here).
Parsec Productions, the indie studio responsible, have teamed up with Blue Isle Studios to produce a more complete Slenderman game, in Slender: The Arrival.
It isn’t exactly a sequel, but expands the gameplay of the original Slender experiment into a full experience. The first game had you wandering around the woods at night, collecting eight scattered pages, while avoiding the grasp and eyeless stare of the Slenderman. And it was tense.
Slender games are horrifying because the player is disempowered. You can’t even look at Slenderman for long, let alone try to fight him.
The Arrival adds a few more levels and a storyline that feeds into the legend around the character, since its creation in the Something Awful forums in 2009. Unfortunately, the game’s story feels like it was written by the Internet, for the Internet. It’s a bit awkward and not fully fleshed out, and even after hunting down the 26 hidden collectibles that are intended to fill in the background narrative, you’re left without a cohesive whole. It seems to rely too heavily on assumed knowledge of Slenderman’s back-story, where instead it should provide clues and information for players to figure it out through the game. If you’re unfamiliar with the legend, The Arrival’s ending will make little or no sense to you.
Thankfully, the game itself is effective enough without much story. Most of the gameplay involves a similar structure to The Eight Pages, along the lines of "do eight things before Slendy catches you", but the different environments and tasks keep each level distinct.
In the same vein as Amnesia, Slender games are horrifying because the player is disempowered. You can’t even look at Slenderman for long, let alone try to fight him. All you can do is run -- for a little while. Trust me, save your stamina: you don’t want to be too tired to escape when you really need to.
The environments are partially randomised, forcing you to explore everything each time, rather than remembering where stuff is from previous attempts. This I learned the hard way: I devised a “foolproof” plan to beat a level involving turning on six generators to escape from a mine. From an earlier session I figured out where they all were and plotted the fastest route between them, only to find that the last two had moved, and I was lost in the dark again.
We view everything through the frame of a handheld camera, which gives the experience a Blair Witch-esque “found footage” flavour. When you’re bolting from Ol’ Slendy and the camera bounces around like it does in those kind of films, it’s disorienting, and panic-inducing. It’s also how the character makes his presence known, through static and video distortions.
Every element is designed to feed into the horror, and it does so quite successfully.
The game is utterly terrifying.
As a character Slenderman lends (slends?) himself very well to multiple types of fear: at first you’ll think you can see him in the corner of your eye. No, it’s just a tree and a glinting sign. The environments -- especially the forest -- are designed to trick you into thinking you see him everywhere. Paranoia is a symptom of Slenderman’s presence, after all.
Soon you will spot his figure in the distance, standing motionless between the trees. You’ll double-take, glance back -- and he’s gone. Was he ever there?
That psychological foreplay is only the beginning. As you progress, he becomes more aggressive, disappearing and reappearing quicker and closer, and more likely to startle you with pants-staining jump scares.
Those kinds of scares usually feel cheap, but in this case they’re surprisingly effective because they happen organically. Very few are scripted, leaving you unprepared for every encounter, regardless of how many times you’ve played a level. You’ll become maddeningly cautious about turning corners.
As a result, my housemates kept running in to see what was wrong with me. Apparently my constant gasps, heavy breathing and yes, even the occasional scream, was disturbing them. I’d say it’s the kind of game you should play when no one else is around, but I’m not strong-willed enough for that.
But as solid as the core ideas are, the game often undermines itself with a lack of polish. There’s a roughness to the visuals, but that isn’t a deal-breaker by itself. The real problem is bugs.
At the end of one level, literally seconds from finishing, I clipped through the floor, fell out of the world and died. In the next level my character froze in the same place three times over. I was about ready to call it a game-breaker when, without doing anything differently, it worked fine on the fourth try.
The state of the game is hard to place at the moment. It’s being sold as a finished product, and it’s more complete than a beta version, but it doesn’t feel like a full experience yet. The developers are continually patching the game too, so hopefully these major issues are sorted out soon.
Slender: The Arrival is a little rough, but in a way that just serves to highlight how effective a horror game it actually is. Even playing mid-afternoon with an audience behind me was enough to elicit some genuine scares. But to experience the game in its full glory, you’ll need to be alone, in the dark, with headphones on. And maybe have some extra pants nearby.