Here’s the thing, Slender Man, as a character, is not scary. It’s just a really tall guy in a dapper suit with no face. He is an invention of the internet that spread across forums, message boards and beyond, just like the thousands of memes that came before him and so, to me at least, there is a measure of childishness to him. However, it is mildly interesting to see how his lore continues to be expanded by anyone who wishes, making him almost like the world’s first open-source monster. He is the digital equivalent of a camp-fire tale, altered and augmented with each telling.
Slender: The Arrival is not the first outing for the vertically prone gentleman, having made the jump from creepypasta to computer games last June with The Eight Pages. This sequel, newly released on Steam following a successful GreenLight campaign, fleshes out the gameplay elements established the first time around and attempts to wrap it all in what could be perceived as a potentially multi-title narrative. Wishful thinking perhaps, as this first step fails to impress, and is a pretty short, irritating experience.
It starts out quite promising and without any introduction, with you trekking towards an isolated country home as the last of the evening light fades. By time you reach your destination it’s pitch black and the unnerving sound rustling in the trees that followed you all the way really begins to feel threatening. The house doesn’t provide much of a refuge, devoid of life with clear signs of a struggle. It’s obvious something went down, something involving a really tall guy with a dapper suit and no face. There is a wonderful eeriness to the interior, helped by the discovery of mysterious letters and ominous notebook scribbles strewn about the house, and a very palpable tension as you wait for the inevitable scare. But it never comes. Instead, a distant scream draws you outside, onto the dark, wooded hillside to search for your absent hostess. Passing by burnt-out barns and empty construction sites, there is a real sense that you are being watched by something, veiled in darkness, just beyond the reach of your flashlight.
Eventually you arrive at an enclosed wooded creek and you are finally introduced to Slender Man. This is also unfortunately where things begin to go downhill, as the sinister atmosphere that has been so well cultivated is betrayed by poor gameplay. Here you are tasked to collect 8 pages while avoiding Mr. Tall & Scary, but after only a few minutes he becomes tiresome rather than terrifying. The problem is that while you’re trying to navigate the confusing landscape searching for the pages, he just makes things tedious by glitching out your vision when he’s close or causing you to restart the whole process if he does catch you. It’s scary the first time you turn around and catch a glimpse of him, but when you’re trying to find that last page for the 4th or 5th time, he’s just plain annoying. There is no way to attack or defend yourself so all you can do is run, irritating when he appears in the direction you’re going, forcing you to take the long way around.
When you do finally get all the pages, you’re offered a brief respite in daylight. Until you enter an underground storage area where you have to do it all again, except this time it’s firing up generators instead of collecting pages. It’s lazy game design; just change the scenery and make the player do essentially the same thing again. Once you’re out, that’s pretty much all there is to the game. A playable flashback scene featuring your missing friend trying to lock down the house offers some small insight into the backstory but it’s quite minor and again involves the same mechanic: close 8 windows and doors in time. It’s just uninspired.
Visually, Slender: The Arrival is perfectly acceptable for a game of this type, but there is some nasty texture popping at times. This is just about forgivable as it’s only noticeable in the daylight portions, which are few and fleeting. The entire game is played through a found-footage style camera HUD complete with battery indicator and a limited zoom function. It’s ultimately pointless and adds nothing to the experience as it’s on screen all the time. Maybe you’re a cyborg, I don’t know. The recent Outlast went for a similar approach but did it so much better, giving the camera the vital gameplay function of night vision. The same would have worked quite well here, but sadly it’s a missed opportunity. The sound design is quite good, with some very nice effects for the Slender Man’s glitches. The spatial arrangement of ambient noises is also very well done and gives the environments a good sense of scale. Kudos must also be given for allowing a degree of non-linear exploration, even if it does offer little reward.
VERDICT: I really wanted to like Slender: The Arrival, and for a brief moment I did. The opening sequence sets a wonderfully unsettling tone that could have potentially made this game one to remember. Sadly, it devolves into a tedious, irritating scavenger hunt that fails to keep up the momentum and burdens the player with repetitious busy work that makes the short playtime seem merciful rather than miserly. Fans of Slender Man will probably enjoy it, but everyone else should avoid it like the man himself.
AVERAGE. The epitome of a 50/50 game, this title will be unspectacular but inoffensive, charmless but amiable. We aren’t condemning a game by scoring it a 5, but we certainly aren’t championing it, either.
Review code provided by publisher.