It’s just past midnight and I am settling down to play Slender The Arrival. Ten minutes later and I find myself slightly sweaty with goose bumps appearing all over my legs and arms. Five minutes more and I am now frowning heavily, while feeling very scared, looking behind me, glancing out of the window nervously and jumping suddenly, even through I know it’s just a game. Repeat, it’s just a game. I’m now running through the woods, with just a flashlight and a video camera. I’m hearing whispering to my left, the screen distorts and a low level disturbing drone gets louder and more disturbing. The world flips over and over and then he appears behind me, I can’t go any further, I am trapped as his arms become tentacles and the screen goes black. The Slender Man has arrived.
Twenty minutes later I switch the game off and then lock the back door, check behind the curtains, look under bed and try to get to sleep without thinking about him and that blank soulless face. You see I didn’t switch the game off because I was bored, it’s because well, you can only take a little bit of Slender at a time, like a rollercoaster or daytime television, before you have to check into a sanatorium.
The Slender Man was first put into existence in 2009 by Something Awful forums who inserted this besuited, slender, faceless figure into a selection of old photo’s from the 1930’s. A complex narrative and history of the Slender Man was made up quickly and then, like good urban myths, extra bits of the fictional myth went viral. No one could tell what the truth was any more and people would write about the Slenderman like he’s been in our shared conscious since the start of all bogeyman stories. It even spawned two horrific attempted murders involving young girls stabbing one another because the Slender man told them to do so.
So in 2010 Blue Isles Studio released Slender on the PC as an indie game. The game gathered critical acclaim for its scares and mythical status. A sequel was soon made and this is what we have here on Xbox One. A few more levels have been added but it’s basically the same game.
You are Lauren, investigating the disappearance of your friend Kate in a rural setting. You are armed just with a video camera that provides your light in the darkness or a torch in later levels. You can sprint, but not for long as your stamina depletes quickly. That’s it – no shoot, strafe, grenades or slow motion focus. There is a prologue level where, without any real instructions, you head off into the woods in the daylight. It’s really pleasant, with beautiful trees blowing in the wind, rolling hills in the distance, picket fences etc…but then the darkness descends.
In the beginning you pick up clues from abandoned houses, or outhouses or still-running empty cars to piece together the narrative. These clues could be pictures, drawings, letters or maps. An upturned chair or a random blood trail hints that something bad has happened here and sometimes warnings etched into the wall help you on this journey of discovery. When the camera distorts and the sound gets more scrambled, you think you see a tall figure on a hillside…but when you look again he’s gone. Now he’s behind you. Now he’s at your side. Now he’s close…run.
The main gameplay of Slender: The arrival consists of you exploring a map in the near darkness and doing a number of tasks. Collect eight notes in the woods, or turn on six generators in some mines underground. As you collect more of them, the soundtrack intensifies and the Slenderman gets closer and nearer. All you have to hand are your wits and the sprint button. Not looking around and continuing to move is the key.
If you do die, and here’s the kicker, the locations of your objectives are randomly placed in different locations every different time you start. Now, some people might like this and I can see the challenge, but for me it ruined the unique and engaging narrative it had successfully created up to that point. In the end this trick just became annoying, feeling like a chore, and even though the scare factors were still very high it sadly took me out of the world and reminded me it was just a game after all.
Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. The rare daytime sequences are beautiful with the best trees blowing in the wind I have seen on new generation consoles. In contrast, the very claustrophobic night-time sequences work equally well with brilliant lighting effects used to some great effect. Some of the interiors of the buildings though can become too blocky and not as well realised as the rest of the game. The mine sequence, for example, is very generic and very familiar. The bits of drawings, photos and documents you will find are very genuine with a tremendous amount of detail.
Sound is where this game really excels. Like all great horror movies it’s the soundtrack and sound effects that give almost ninety percent of the scares. From the beginning it creates an uneasy feeling that slowly gets worse, and makes the pit of your stomach turn over and over. From a drone noise, to a crackle, to a hiss, to a distant scream, to a whisper over your right shoulder, to a slam and then to some remote crying in an abandoned hut. The soundtrack knows how to manipulate your feelings, while playing and twisting with your thoughts in a brilliant way.
To conclude, Slender: The Arrival is very good at making you scared beyond belief. It’s frightening, haunting and at times scream out loud terrifying. The way you are thrown into the story without a tutorial as such, a voiceover or instructions is refreshing and intriguing. You have to piece together the clues yourself which is reminiscent of games of a similar nature like Gone Home, Dear Esther or Outlast.
The gameplay itself is what lets the game down for me. Its very nature of walk, and then run, then repeat and then maybe hopefully you might find the next clue before you die, grows tired very quickly and might not appeal to a huge percentage of gamers who are used to much, much more. The price tag is very appealing (around £7.99) though and well worth a punt if you want an experience like no other out there.
Just don’t forget to check under your bed after each playthrough.