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nekobun avatar 6:26 PM on 10.16.2012  (server time)
Slipping back to the shadows.

Since my earlier article discussing Slender and its spiritual progeny, the Slender Man's Shadow project, four more Slender Man's Shadow maps have seen release to the public. Having spent a decent amount of time with all of them, I figured I'd describe them a bit for those who've yet to look into the new maps, as well as sharing my opinions on them.

Mentioned as forthcoming in the post linked above, Mansion was the first of said maps to be released, and it quickly became one of my personal favorites. Introducing new elements such as multiple floors and a wider array of items to collect, not a single one of which was a sheet of paper, Mansion really steps up the game and was a huge, welcome step towards the Shadow boys showing their own ingenuity. Besides the gameplay tweaks, Slendy himself sees an overhaul, with the tentacles from Slender Man lore being added to his in-game model and growing in number as the player collects more mementos. New audio was introduced in the form of thunder crashes that can be heard mostly on the starting floor, and work in delightful unison with the atmospheric audio to up the scare factor exponentially. Novelty aside, Mansion is just a delightful ride, with at least double the floor space of its Slender Man's Shadow predecessors to cover and strategic concerns regarding which order to search the floors as to best avoid being caught and lessen backtracking upping the tension and leaving more to worry about in the back of the player's mind.

Next up, we have Claustrophobia. While having an interesting concept at heart, Claustrophobia fails to really live up to its name, or to its family legacy, for that matter. Stuck at night in a sprawling hedge maze and spawned, initially, from one of several, randomly selected positions, your goal in Claustrophobia is to find keys scattered throughout the maze in the hopes of unlocking the vault door that is the exit. There's some great stuff going on here; hedge mazes are kind of creepy and inspire hopelessness to begin with, and the fact that each failed attempt to open the door (as you can try with any number of keys, seven supposedly being the minimum needed to have any chance of success) aggravates Slender Man into more dogged pursuit makes panicked or frustrated click-mashing a death sentence. Unfortunately, it doesn't really come together all that well, as finding the keys is so irritating that it quickly feels more like a chore than evasive maneuvering, and the fact Slendy starts pursuing you after a certain time's elapsed, regardless of your key count, can make it that much more frustrating. Add the lack of any real enclosed feeling to the maze itself, as despite its sameiness and misdirection, it's pretty wide open for the most part, and Claustrophobia fails to deliver the same experience some of the more successful Slender Man's Shadow maps provide.

Following Claustrophobia comes 7th Street, which takes place in the midst of a few city blocks, as the name would imply. A major crossroads quarters the map into four sections, all of which are well interwoven with narrower alleys and walkways through which the familiar collectable pages are strewn. Pace-wise, 7th Street is arguably the fastest of the Slender Man's Shadow experiences, with many pages in fairly plain view and a reasonably compact map area. However, Slender Man's chase ramps up just as quickly as the player's discoveries do, which can make this deceptively easy collection run just as difficult as any other Shadow map. Personally, 7th Street ties with Mansion as my favorite, both because of this faster pacing and because it suffers a great deal less than earlier maps from clipping errors that often spawned Slender Man in walls or other solid objects, or would visibly shift your character out of the way when he tried to spawn too close to your own model.

And finally, at least for now, we have Prison, which can be summed up in one word in regards to both the level and its real-world namesake: brutal. The derelict correctional facility in which you're trapped is heinously homogeneous in its visual style and layout, and can easily have even the most diligent player stuck going in circles before long. This time around, the player is collecting photographs during their attempted prison break, which can be found just as often in corners on the floor as they can on raised surfaces such as beds and counters, and for the first time in a Slender Man's Shadow, the character's hand is visibly holding the flashlight in front of them. The new element that really kicks things up a notch, however, is that running now attracts Slender Man's attention in the sprawling, silent cell blocks, making the sprint key an absolutely last-ditch option this time around. Turning and walking away quietly seems completely counter-intuitive at first, and between that restriction and the delay in ground coverage provided by not running, the atmosphere upgrades from mere terror to sheer menace. One of my favorite new elements, however, goes beyond even that; the character's flashlight, at times, will completely and unexpectedly cut out, leaving you plunged in darkness for what feels like forever if you're not in one of the primary hallways. If you live long enough the first instance, you learn that it does switch back on eventually, but that first blackout is tantamount to the first time a Slender virgin encounters our pale, be-suited friend in The Eight Pages. It's a rough ride, Prison, but any substantial progress in it feels more satisfying than any of its other brethren, and the ambient fear is the finest of any Slender Man's Shadow map to date.

Still forthcoming is something marked as a "Secret Project" on the Slender Man's Shadow home page, for which they collected $1,000 in donations but have revealed little else. Current speculation estimates it'll be a compilation of sorts, with the previously announced Carnival map and possibly an SDK to open up creation directly to the community, among other things. However, something completely different is just as likely; a pyramid-themed level was originally slated to release early in the rotation, but was scrapped entirely and hasn't been mentioned since. Either way, the Slender Man's Shadow crew have worked wonders when it comes to perpetuating the surprise scares and ambient dread of Parsec's original Slender, while maintaining an air of homagery rather than seeming merely derivative. Here's to all their good work to date, and to the hope that another dose of apprehension will be delivered in time for Hallowe'en.

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