Slender: The Arrival Review (PC)

Slender: The Eight Pages was a free game experiment that took the internet by storm last year. Based on the internet-created “myth” of the Slender Man, it was a terrifying little game set in the woods at night where, armed only with a flashlight, you’re tasked with collecting eight notes randomly hidden before the disturbing Slender Man gets you. What made it creepy was that it used a mechanic similar to Amnesia: The Dark Descent where it actually hurt to look at the monster, meaning you were forced to avoid looking at the creature hunting you. Slender Man also never moved when you were looking, instead teleporting around so you never knew where he was coming from. It was a great concept in search of a proper game, and that’s now materialised as Slender: The Arrival. The Steam release is finally upon us, so we thought it was high time we cast our judgement upon it.

Slender: The Arrival is divided into five stages (alongside a freaky secret level and an unlockable version of the original The Eight Pages) that supposedly tells the story of player character Lauren searching for her missing friend Kate, first by going to her house then by following a trail of notes left by her into the woods towards the radio tower on a nearby mountain. I say “supposedly” because the storytelling couldn’t be looser. There is no explanation why Lauren doesn’t go to the police or why she’s perpetually got a camcorder in her hand, and Lauren never says anything. Still, I appreciate some narrative effort, and while you won’t be gripped by the plot it does its job well in setting up the scary bits.

Nothing can possibly go wrong

In the first instance, Slender: The Arrival is terrifying. If that was their entire goal then well done Blue Isle and Parsec Productions, you’ve succeeded. If you want to be scared then buy this game. The constant feeling of being hunted by a supernatural creature with no means of fighting back forms the majority of the gameplay time, and the rest of the time is just being creeped out. The developers have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to accomplish both and wisely don’t just rely on the Slender Man to generate fear. Strange noises, mysterious shadows, excellent use of lighting, the notes and drawings scattered about the place, even the use of “quiet” moments to briefly relieve the tension – it all really feels like you’re stuck in a horror movie where anything can happen. I especially love how when you’re close to the Slender Man the pause menu becomes disabled, so there’s no escaping back to reality.

The levels themselves are an uneven bunch. The first stage, ‘Prologue’, is fantastic. It’s all about creepiness rather than the hunt (although the feeling of being watched stays with you), with a lot of superb “did I see that?” moments and great uses of sound, light, and whatthef***isthatonthehillohmygodwherediditgo. As a beginning to a horror game it’s perfect, but sadly the rest of the game doesn’t quite sync with it. The second stage is a remake of The Eight Pages, making the inclusion of the original as a bonus level somewhat pointless but there you go. The third stage is set in a dark mining facility where you have to activate randomly placed generators to power up a lift to escape, and is the only level featuring an enemy other than the Slender Man – a strange hooded figure who actively chases you and mauls you to death if it catches you. The fourth stage is brilliant if short, set in the house you encountered at the start of the game and finds you (as Kate this time) frantically rushing around locking doors and windows before the Slender Man can get in. The fifth stage is a straight chase by the Slender Man, followed by a bafflingly obtuse ending.

And that’s your lot. If either luck or perseverance is on your side (and you have to have either one or the other to enjoy Slender: The Arrival) you’ll get through the entire game in less than an hour. There are hidden notes to find around the levels that enhance the Slender Man lore, plus the randomised nature of the pages/generators means you’ll be able to get some enjoyment replaying stages two and three, but unless I plan to stick it on Big Picture mode or commit suicide via Oculus Rift I’ll never touch the game again.

What’s that coming over the hill is it a monster, is it a monster?

£6.99/$9.99 may seem only a small amount of money but I feel there needed to be more here, both in terms of stages and variety. Slender’s “find things before the monster gets you” idea is scary but it’s a gimmick that becomes repetitive even before this very short game ends, which is a real shame since the ‘Prologue’ and ‘Flashback’ chapters (1 and 4) show that Blue Isle/Parsec are skilled scaremongers. A few more stages with different mechanics would really make it easier to recommend The Arrival. Oh, and a better ending. Mild spoiler: things don’t go well for you. What’s the point of having to restart the final level if the Slender Man’s going to catch you anyway when you get to the end? And there’s a difference between “an ambiguous ending” and “an abrupt ending”, guys. This is the latter.

If you want to be scared out of your mind for an hour or so, feel free to get Slender: The Arrival. If you consider that the only prerequisite for a horror game, it gets top marks. Trouble is video games have to have more than that, and this is where The Arrival falls down. Out of the six stages only the first is unique, otherwise the rest are based around the same “hunt for things while getting hunted” mechanic which you’ll be utterly tired of by the time you reach the game’s abrupt end. Oh, and stages 2 and 6 are basically identical. Yes you’ll be scared, and woe betide you if you play on Oculus Rift, but it’s all based on a single gimmick that’s relied upon far too much. There are scares here, but not much game. Ye have been warned.

Top Game Moment: Seeing a weird statue on the hill in the distance, looking away… oh, where did it go? Why’s it on that other hill? Oh crap it’s back where it was the first time! Aargh!

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