I played what was the original Slender last year after hearing all the reports that it was the 'scariest game ever' complete with hundreds of tedious reaction videos of people playing it on YouTube. I found it to be hugely disappointing for two main reasons. First of all, at the very height of its horror it was about as scary as one of those screamer videos. The atmosphere never strayed away from the idea that 'it's dark and something might show up', and when it does turn up, it's a rubbish, blocky polygon thing that looks like Morph in an ill-fitting suit.
Then there's how it played. Ten locations dotted around a forest map with eight pages of mysterious notes scattered randomly at some of them. You've got to find them, at night, in the dark, while Slender Man stalks you. Do so to win, or he'll eventually catch up with you, filling the screen with static forcing you to start over. BOO. Scary. That's it. I found the whole thing incredibly underwhelming in almost every aspect.
Maybe I was being harsh? After all, it was barely more than a fan mod that gathered massive internet attention. With more time and money thrown at it, perhaps there is something in this concept?
There is, but not much. Slender: The Arrival is fundamentally the same thing, only now you've got a few extra places to explore and a handful more trinkets to find while ol' Slendy hunts you down. Drawing from the rather popular Marble Hornets ARG YouTube series for inspiration, the brief prologue that sees you searching an abandoned house full of Slender Man related graffiti already sets a much richer, scarier scene than anything in the original. Maybe this is the worthwhile slow-burning interactive horror story it also threatened to be. Barring a really awkward door opening control method, things are looking up.
However, after this brief introduction you're back in a forest, seeking out pages of notes, playing cat-and-mouse with Slendo. A level later and you're wandering around an abandoned mine, only this time you're looking for parts to restore power to an elevator. Here you're not only pursued by Slender Man but also one of his proxies - a hooded figure that is being controlled to do his bidding. Two things! At once! It is a gameplay revolution! Play on for a while and the whole thing is done and dusted within an hour with no real reason to go back to it.
Look at Amnesia. Look at Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Look at the brilliant Year Walk on iOS. They all manage to be constantly chilling and unsettling and will no doubt stick in the mind far longer than Slender Man and his silly arms.
It's a shame as the concept is an easy one to buy into. When I first stumbled across it a few years ago my housemate and I became fairly obsessed. Browsing forums one night I found numerous Photoshops, videos and, more interestingly, ARGs dedicated to the recently created urban legend. EverymanHYBRID, TwelveTribe and the aforementioned Marble Hornets were all YouTube series based around this creepy character who could bend time and space and kill people with ease. We watched them all, read the related Wiki pages and followed along with the more dedicated folk who were playing the game. It was like a constantly moving, changing horror fiction and Slender Man was the terrifying antagonist at the core of all of them.
We even made a deal not to dress up as the character and scare the hell out of one another coming back from work. I think that agreement still stands...
I have the same feelings about The Arrival as I had with Dear Esther. The impressive, pushing for photorealistic visuals do help create a pretty sinister backdrop and Slender Man is still one of the more interesting horror concepts of recent times, but I kept wishing there was a bit more to the actual game than what is on offer. It's just so basic and once you've developed a mechanical route around the areas the items you need to proceed will simply spawn; you can keep trying that until you're successful, provided the A.I. doesn't teleport the enemy RIGHT in front of you for no real reason. The minimal gameplay feels like a means to an end - an excuse to get a handful of jump scares more than anything else.
This is a frustrating game, not just because it can be occasionally unfair but because these guys clearly have an idea how to promote fear. Running around playing kiss chase with a trans-dimensional being doesn't really cut it. There's almost certainly a great horror experience somewhere in all this Slender Man mythos but this isn't it. This is glorified Pac-Man in the dark.
Version Tested: PC
Game played for and completed in 2 hours.