In June of 2012, one-man development team Mark “Parsec” Hadley unleashed Slender: The Eight Pages onto the internet as a free downloadable game for horror fans. Billed as a “proof of concept,” the project was an ultra-low budget experiment for Hadley to test the waters for a larger game he planned to make further down the line. Despite its guerilla nature, the game became a massive hit and is now considered by many to be one of the scariest video games of all time. It is a darling of YouTubers everywhere, who have practically created a new genre out of filming their terrified reactions while playing the game.
All of this success left many wondering exactly what else Hadley could have up his sleeves for whatever undertaking he had originally envisioned, and if it could measure up. Fans no longer have to wait for the answer. Along with help from Blue Isle Studios, Hadley's full vision of Slender: The Arrival has come to fruition and is now available for download.
Unlike its predecessor, The Arrival brings with it an actual plot. The player controls a girl, presumably named Lauren, who crashed her car on a dirt road on the way to visit a friend. After finding her friend’s house ransacked, Lauren follows an ominous scream into the nearby woods, where she finds herself in the cross hairs of the nightmarish Slender Man.
For those who don’t know, Slender Man is a faux urban legend dreamed up on internet message boards. He is a faceless man in a business suit with oddly proportioned limbs who is known to show up in the background of photos shortly before disaster strikes. Exactly what he does varies based on the tale, but his most common shtick is to stalk victims from afar while slowly driving them insane through supernatural means. Hundreds of short stories, photo blogs, and video series based on him have sprung up across the web, making Slender Man into one of the most successful legends on the net.
Slender: The Arrival has the player on the run from the Slender Man, while being driven further into the wilderness and visiting different locales along the way. The events leading up to this point are revealed through notes the player finds scattered throughout the game. Interestingly, the story was written by Slender Man veteran Troy Wagner, of Marble Hornets fame. While not terribly original as far as Slender Man stories go, it’s appropriately creepy and sets the mood well.
Lauren, for her part, is a blank slate. She is a silent protagonist to the extreme, even more so than Jack Ryan, Gordon Freeman, and Chell. She exists completely as an audience surrogate, allowing players to put themselves into her role and become more immersed in the game. The most we ever see of her is a shadowy drawing during one of the loading screens, and we only know her name because it is mentioned in passing in one of the notes you find.
The game is split into five chapters. The second and third chapters are based on the gameplay of the original Slender, while the first, fourth, and fifth are more structured and linear. The pacing and gameplay can feel very different between the two types of levels, almost making me feel like I should write a separate review for each one.
The second chapter is literally a remake of The Eight Pages, with the third chapter sharing its gameplay style. The player is dropped in a dark, spooky area and given the task of finding certain objects while Slender Man stalks them. Players have no weapons, only a flashlight and their wits. There are no hit points to drain. If Slendy catches you, it's game over.
What sets Slender Man apart from other video game monsters is his slow, calculating methods. He is very patient in his attack, toying with the player like a cat-and-mouse game. It makes him a very intimidating adversary, and ratchets up the suspense, as you never quite know where he might pop up. He announces his presence with static across the screen, sending the player into panic mode, knowing that he is somewhere close by. His AI has been reworked from the previous game, so veterans of The Eight Pages won’t be able to rely on the same tactics that got them through the first round.
One of biggest changes to these levels is the addition of Slendy’s cohort. This time around, Slender Man has an accomplice, a hooded demon girl who fans have nicknamed “the Proxy.” The Proxy is a physical entity, choosing to stalk players on foot and beat them up rather than teleport around and eat their soul. As a result, players can interact with the Proxy in ways that can’t be done with her boss, such as shaking off her attacks or hiding in a dark corner and running when the coast is clear. She is also far more aggressive than the Slender Man, adding a whole new dimension to the game when she’s around.
By way of comparison, the final two chapters are much more linear and scripted. The player sets out to accomplish specific tasks, and has a pretty straightforward journey to do so. It is still possible to lose, but the highly-scripted nature of these levels make them much easier than their open-ended counterparts. This also makes them a lot shorter.
Don’t get the wrong impression, I am not badmouthing the quality. The latter half of the game is still immersive, engaging, and scary. The problem is that putting two gameplay styles side-by-side throws off the pacing. The third chapter is easily the most difficult, and by extension, the longest. It can take several attempts to beat and treads closely to the line of frustration once in a while.
It feels awkward to put the game on hold for so long in the middle, only to have the final stretch fly by so swiftly. And I do mean fly by: the game as a whole is very short. Even with the odd difficulty spike, a single playthrough only takes about an hour, or less depending on how quickly you get the hang of the open-ended chapters. Playing through once unlocks a “hardcore” mode, that ups the difficulty on repeat playthoughs, but that probably only offers replay incentive to those who already loved the game to begin with.
Visually, Slender: The Arrival looks great. Even on my lower-end PC with the resolution turned down, the visuals are still stunning in their detail. Environments are excellent, especially the forests, which are lush in the daylight foreboding in the darkness. I found myself stopping along a late-game mountain path just to admire the scenery in the distance.
The character models are not quite as good as the scenery, but they aren’t necessarily, bad, either. Slender Man is vastly improved over his previous incarnation, looking more “natural.” If you have the guts to stop and examine him rather than turning tail and booking the instant he appears, you might see him moving a little bit as well, which makes him feel like an actual character this time around instead of a static, indifferent gameplay element. The other character models, few as they are, just kind of fall into mediocrity.
Being a horror game, the sound is a vital part of the atmosphere, and Slender: The Arrival delivers. There is very little music to speak of, but the game is rife with ambient noise. Birds chirping in the daylight give the player time to breathe and relax between the more intense segments. Conversely, the hellish thumping in the headset whenever Slender Man is on the prowl is chilling. Few moments in video games have made my blood run cold faster than being in a tight corridor with the sound of the Proxy’s footsteps rushing in my direction from just around the corner.
Any other complaints I could make about Slender: The Arrival are minor. Some players have reported glitches, a few of which forced them to replay entire chapters, but I never experienced them myself and they seem to be fixed by now. Interacting with doors and windows is a little clumsy, though overlookable. Also, all of the exposition documents that can be picked up throughout the game are automatically unlocked after you complete a chapter, whether you found them or not, thus rendering extra exploration unnecessary. Those, of course, are just nitpicks. They are noticeable but don’t really bring down the overall quality that much.
Horror in media is highly subjective. I cannot pass universal judgment on Slender: The Arrival’s scare factor. Some people might play the whole game without batting an eyelash, while others might need to rush out and buy a night light and teddy bear. Personally, I found it to be creepy and atmospheric with a few good heebie-jeebie moments. I would not put it on the same level as games like Amnesia or Silent Hill, but it earns its place in the genre well enough.
Slender: The Arrival is a solid game to play. Despite a major pacing problem and a few minor nitpicks, it delivers a unique and enjoyable horror experience that surpasses its predecessor. The only reservation I have about recommending it is the amount of content compared to the cost. As much as I liked the game, it seems too short to justify even the relatively low ten dollar price point. If you are a devoted fan of the genre, the original game, the Slender Man mythos, or just want to support small-time indie developers, give it a shot. Otherwise, wait and see if you can snag a download in the $5-$7 range further down the line.
Slender: The Arrival is available as a digital download from http://www.slenderarrival.com/