Slender: The Arrival Review (PC)
Scary games. There are a few, but with AAA titles the focus has shifted from horror to action. Often their primary purpose isn’t to simply scare the poop out of us. Dead Space has become a roller-coaster shooting game. Silent Hill wants to tell a deep and involving psychological story more than it wants to frighten you. Resident Evil increasingly wants to make you feel like you’re in a Michael Bay movie, and you’re more likely to find yourself in a missile silo than a haunted house.
In the indie space there has been a horror game renaissance though. Amnesia has been a recent success story, but it was the original Slender Man (The 8 Pages) that really popularised the indie horror scene, as well as spawning thousands of videos of terrified gamers screaming at their monitors.
Slender Mans inception as an internet meme is culturally interesting, but it’s in a videogame context that he has coalesced into his most frightening form. In Parsecs Productions break through game they grafted him into the perfect setting (a dark forest) to make him the ultimate videogame antagonist. Slow, relentless, ambiguous and absolutely deadly, he’s the stuff of nightmares. Slender Man:The Eight Pages was a simple, stripped down and visually basic game, but it set out the essential formula of these games. Find the notes, escape the Slender Man. You cannot fight. You cannot hide. All you can do is keep running.
With Slender: The Arrival, Parsec have built on the basic premise and rounded the package out with higher production values and more content. In your attempts to elude Slender Man you will now travel through a number of environments and uncover a background story. You will do all this in a really pretty game world too, as The Arrival oscillates between stark natural beauty and terrifyingly realistic environments with convincing lighting effects and immersive ambient audio.
The game is presented through the lens of a handheld camera. This might be a nod to modern found footage horror movies, but it’s effective in a game context and the grainy filter lends a patina of realism and immersion. This is a good looking game, and unlike the original game that only rendered a dark forest at night, the environments range from sun dappled, leafy autumn canopies to mountainous landscapes of bare rock and pine trees. These bright sections are typically a precursor to the more atmospheric, darker areas, but the contrast works brilliantly. The only thing scarier than waking up in a dark cave is waking up in a bright hillside, then descending from the light into a dark, deep hole in the ground.
Instead of just one level their are now several different stages loosely tied together with a narrative. Unlike The Eight Pages, you don’t need to start over each time Slender catches you. You can start at the any of the stages you have unlocked. It remains a short, streamlined game, but there’s more content and variety than you might expect.
Each stage plays out essentially the same. You search for a certain number of items/notes/generators while avoiding Mr Slender. As you find more of these collectibles Slender gets more aggressive. As he gets closer your screen experiences a number of distortions and gets fuzzy, it gets harder to see and move and you approach game over. Only by running (which you can only do in short bursts) will you get to safety. Often you’ll be shining your torch to see where you’re going, but thankfully it won’t run out of batteries… or at least I never lived long enough for that to happen to me.
The most important thing about Slender: The Arrival is that it’s scary. Genuinely scary. I mean, I am not jumpy. Typically, when my friends jump at a loud noise I react a bit later. Sometimes around a week. Seriously, I slept through an earthquake once, and I react to jump scares in movies like a sloth reacts to cuddles and nap time. But Slender: The Arrival works on me. Jaded as I am, there are times when I get genuinely nervous playing this game. The design (that uses escalating danger and difficulty) combines with the perfect soundtrack (full of scratches and eery moments of silence) and a visual style that makes you see danger where there is none (“Was that shadow Slender Man!?”) to make a perfect storm of unnerving, frightening gameplay.
So considering what it sets out to do, Slender: The Arrival delivers. In truth though, playing it over and over gets repetitive. It’s frustrating to be caught and killed by Slender so often. The difficulty is intentionally high and at the times where you face other enemies (yup, there are some scary demon children as well as Mr Slender) it can become a punishing, painful experience. It’s also a short game, and in truth something that you probably won’t play by yourself more than a few times.
In a group of like-minded fraidy-cats, huddled on a sofa and sharing a blanket with the lights out, there’s nothing else like it.Slender: The Arrival Review (PC),