Thick On Scares, Slender On Everything Else
Before I get cracking on this review, I have a confession to make. The whole concept of “The Slender Man,” scares the crap out of me. No lie. I am good with zombies, vampires, witches, werewolves, the Moth Man and whatever else. But for whatever reason, the Slender Man scares the bejeezus out of me. So naturally, when I received the download code for this game with no title attached to it, I asked what the game was. The only response I got from my editor? It’s a surprise. I should have known. To say I started sweating a little when I realized what game I was going to be reviewing would be a bit of an understatement, but I figured if I could survive P.T. without screaming like a little girl, I could do this.
The first thing I noticed was the absence of any lead-in to the story behind what I was about to experience. So I made my way down a forest path to a random neighborhood that apparently was being erected on the side of a mountain in the Rockies. A place where people could relax and unwind – at least that’s what the text at the very beginning said of this mountain haven. But what I soon realized is that something had gone terribly amiss. As I walked into the first house, nearly every door was open. There was no sign that there had been anyone in the house for some time. In fact, it looked like someone was either moving in or out at the time of their disappearance from the property.
So I made my way through the home and discovered a message on the answering machine that told me what I needed to know. Sarah, the woman who had lived in the house was trying to sell it and go elsewhere. And I, apparently, was going to help her do so. But upon my arrival, I found only one locked door in the whole house. Once I opened it with the key I had found in another room, I realized that something truly wicked had happened. The window was broken out and there were deranged drawings all over the room and nonsensical ramblings scratched on papers strewn about the room. Someone had lost their mind. I could only surmise that it was Sarah.
As I made my way through the rest of the property and investigated the grounds, I was met with internal monologues that told me that Sarah and I had played here, had history here, and that I really needed to find her. So I made my way further into the woods where other homes were in various stages of completion. At one point, and very suddenly, the video camera I was using to document my travels (the camera is the HUD for the entire game), started to crackle and short out. But when the anomaly ended, there he was. The Slender man. He was standing atop a nearby mountain…watching me. And then just as suddenly as he had appeared, my camera crackled and flickered and he was gone.
I won’t talk much else about the game itself because it is so short that if I mete out too much detail, it will be a complete and total spoiler for what is actually a very scary game. But not in the slasher, blood-and-gore, or even totally twisted plot kind of way. It is a total psychological thriller filled with the most unsettling and frighteningly sparse atmospheres in any game I have played in a while. Honestly, the closest comparisons I can draw to Slender are P.T. and Outlast , but they beat this game out by a long shot. What it had in scare-factor, it totally lacked in other ways.
Let’s start with graphics. I know this is an indie game. I know it’s a re-imagining of a free-to-play PC title. And I know that it’s only ten bucks. But seriously, if I had created a game that got enough of a response to warrant a re-imagined version on Steam and next-gen consoles, I would do my best to make damned sure that it would stand up and be counted among others in the genre. Again, Slender is thick on scares. It really is. But even having near infinite stamina and unlimited battery life didn’t help the fact that the limited controls and total lack of defensive capability make this game very hard to play at various points. Really, I don’t want to beat these guys up too much because (given my aforementioned phobia of the Slender Man) this game scared the s#!t out of me. But I’ll say this. If they want to compete, they need to step it up. This game looks like a PS2 HD remake or something, and is not anywhere near up to snuff on graphics for next-gen consoles.
And speaking of limited controls, let’s tackle that next. The controls were fine as long as nothing was going on. Everything seemed very fluid on the front end of the game, when everything was cool and I was just exploring. But when it all hit the fan, I floundered more than once with the defenseless and clunky controls that seemed infinitely more sluggish when you were trying to flee for your life. Now, I have never played Slender: Eight Pages , but I have a friend who has and loved it. So I asked him what the control scheme was like for that game and he said it was terrible but that the harsh controls were what made the game so much of a challenge. But then again, this guy thinks that Dark Souls is one of the greatest games ever made. So I guess the take-home message about the controls is simply this: If you like being punished for playing a game or like a challenge more than an experience, this should be right up your alley.
As for the music and sound effects, that’s where this game really shines. Well, not so much with the sound effects, but most definitely with the music and the overall ambience that the audio for this game creates. Musically, Slender plays out like a Hitchcock film, which I can appreciate. It’s pretty classic in the respect that moments of intrigue, fright, or even sheer terror are emphasized by the soundtrack. But don’t get the wrong idea about it. It’s not like the cheesy soundtracks from a B-movie where they telegraph all their punches by the soundtrack. This game makes expert use of the minimalistic music approach employed to get maximum frights out of each scenario. But sadly, as awesome as the musical aspect of the game is, the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. The voice actors are flat and stiff – a far cry from the voice work you would get on a bigger budget game. But again, this game is ten bucks, so I guess you really do get what you pay for.
As far as playability is concerned, this is truly a one-and-done game. At no point throughout my playthrough did I think to myself, “yeah. I think I could do this again, but without unlimited stamina and a battery that dies every ten seconds in my flashlight.” Honestly, it was a chore at times to make it through the game at all. There are vast chasms of time and space between significant events. There was a lot of aimless wandering and a lot of, “exactly where in the hell am I?” All in all, the levels were populated by sparse “jump moments” that made you do just that. But there weren’t any really drawn out scenes of true terror except for near the end. The saddest part is that you can play through the entire game in under two hours with no real problem, even if you tend to be more of a scavenger like me. I took my time, looked around, and still managed to complete it at around the 1:55:00 mark. So if you have a few hours to kill, you could probably roll through this game twice in the time it would take you to play through your average shooter title.
Overall, Slender: The Arrival was pretty well done. It has issues. Make no mistake. There were a lot of glitches (unintentional ones), a lot of scaling and framerate issues, as well as limited controls, vast amounts of dead space, and a story that could still be fleshed out more before being a contender. It needs a graphics update and some good voice actors as well. Again, this game is ten bucks and two hours long, so I wasn’t really expecting a massive surprise of awesomeness. But even my innate fear of the Slender Man mythos wasn’t enough to keep me invested enough in this game to want or even try a second playthrough. I am a huge fan of psychological thrillers. But for what this game has in its psychological scare tactics, it totally lacks in the things that make a game one that you’d want to come back to and play again and again. So as the title implies, this game truly is thick on scares but slender on everything else.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
Rife with framerate issues and glitches. Too many for a next-gen console release, even from an indie. 3.0 Control
Controls are very simple yet can be difficult to manage. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
This is where Slender excels. The ambience and atmosphere remains creepy and unsettling throughout the entire game. 3.0 Play Value
At just shy of two hours of gameplay on the initial play-through, it didn’t wow me enough to want to play it again. Definitely a one-and-done title. 3.3 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|