It would be easy to take one look at the name and dismiss Slender: The Arrival before you’ve even played it. It’s been less than a year since Mark Hadley’s Slender: The Eight Pages invaded the minds of millions, but as with most popular phenomena, the Internet has tried its hardest to exploit and oversaturate the spindly gentleman. Knockoffs and YouTube screamers (individuals who pretend to be scared by horror games) have flooded the airwaves, followed by an unfortunate backlash from people sick of hearing about Slender.
However, Mark Hadley and Parsec Productions haven’t rested on their laurels. They’ve teamed up with Blue Isle Studios to overhaul and expand The Eight Pages, giving it a much-needed coat of polish. The creators of Marble Hornets, a popular YouTube horror series that prominently features Slender Man, have also been brought on board to pen the story and invent a brand-new monster to terrorize players. Almost everyone involved with turning Slender into a cultural powerhouse had their hands in this project, which is as official as you can get for a character without a copyright.
The game they’ve delivered is nothing short of horrifying (in a good way). It takes the best parts of The Blair Witch Project, Marble Hornets and the original Slender, throws them into a blender and thrusts you headfirst into the dark concoction. It pulls no punches, holds no quarter, and never flinches; unless you’re somehow immune to its charms, Slender: The Arrival will leave you in abject terror.
The story is simple; you arrive at a friend’s house, something has clearly gone wrong, and you set off into the dark woods to find her. Without any weapons, your only lines of defense are your video camera, your flashlight, and your wits. The camcorder will begin to distort, shake and wail when your pursuer is visible or close, an effective way to get your rear into gear. The flashlight’s intensity can be adjusted, a crucial thing to remember during one of the scenarios.
Your wits are easily the least reliable but most crucial tool for eluding this paranormal monstrosity. The AI powering your foe is devilish; he’ll stalk you, appearing in the corner of your eye or a distant tree behind you, and often teleports in front of you in an instant. The game is a constant assault on the senses, with disorienting camera interference and mysterious murmurs (are you shivering? Is HE shivering?) as he draws near. He’ll throw you off balance, send you scrambling away from an important objective, and even corner you.
Eventually he’ll take you. Your camera will erupt in a blood-curdling technological scream as he fills your screen. Pausing will do no good; the developers disable the escape key when he’s close, and even keep a tally of your failed attempts to stop. By the end of the game, I had racked up 50 failed pauses. I have no doubt that the game took pleasure in my cowardice.
Your memory won’t be useful, either. Each scenario presents similar objectives, but twists the rules to keep you on your toes. One in particular will make fans of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth grin from ear to ear. The levels are also randomized after every load or retry, from the location of items to the environment itself. If you’re inclined to face your fears after conquering them, this adds extra incentive to replay.
Despite the relatively quick development time, having a dedicated team and a budget clearly made a difference. The visuals have been overhauled; the stiff trees and grimy look of the freeware release is substituted for fauna that flows with the wind, and creatures with a more “organic,” fleshy appearance. The darkness does its best to hide muddy textures, but overall it looks incredibly sharp. The plot provided by the Marble Hornets crew adds some much-needed motivation, scattering bits of paper around the environment that share the story of your missing friend and the world she occupies. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, and many questions are left unanswered, but it explains enough to let your imagination fill in the blanks.
Slender’s biggest problem is its length; you get five levels, two of which are reserved for the prologue and epilogue. That leaves you with three levels that the bravest players will easily finish within an hour and thirty minutes, and that’s a generous estimate; skipping the collectibles would probably result in an even shorter playtime. A harder difficulty with an alternate ending is unlocked as soon as the campaign is completed, but aside from a gallery that lets you re-examine every scrap of paper you picked up, there is no extra content that supplements this incredibly lean game. As a fan of games like Journey and Thirty Flights of Loving, I’ve always felt that length doesn’t matter if the experience is powerful enough, but even I was left wanting when the credits rolled. If not for its low price and immense replayability, I would have serious reservations about recommending this to anyone other than the diehard horror aficionado.
Fear may be a universal emotion, but the particulars are subjective. I can’t say with certainty that Slender: The Arrival will frighten you, but it’s certainly worth another trip into the woods if the first game did anything for you.
Slender: The Arrival is available for PC and Mac on http://slenderarrival.com. $10.
Disclosure: Scanline Media was provided a copy of Slender: The Arrival by Blue Isle Studios.