The Slender Man mythos, created on an internet forum in the form of a photoshopped image accompanied with a scary story, has become a horror phenomenon that has spawned video games, found footage videos and even a bizarre attempted murder in Wisconsin. The concept of a mysterious man with no face, long legs and outstretched arms stalking his prey in the distance in an attempt to make victims go mad works well in horror gaming, so various attempts to create an effective Slender Man game have been made. The most popular entry, Slender: The Arrival, has hit a new slew of consoles including the Xbox One and Wii U, with the latter including some nifty motion controls. Now that Slender Man has began stalking gamers on current generation consoles, we took the opportunity to check out the Wii U version of the game just in time for Halloween. Is Slender: The Arrival an effective horror title for Wii U gamers or just another lame attempt at cashing in on a popular fable?
In Slender: The Arrival, players take control of a young girl named Lauren who is armed with a camera and begins searching for her missing friend named Kate. Upon arriving at Kate’s home and inspecting her bedroom, Lauren hears Kate’s blood curling scream coming from the woods outside her home and decides to investigate. Along the way, Lauren finds notes explaining how children are seeing and being disturbed by a strange person along with other strange phenomenon occurring in the area. As Lauren digs deeper down the rabbit hole, she begins to be stalked by the very being that has caused the disappearances of these children in the town.
Much like the free downloadable PC version of Slender subtitled “The Eight Pages” that released several years ago, The Arrival tasks players at exploring a creepy wooded environment in search of collectibles while attempting to avoid the Slender Man and unravel the mysteries of the story. Slender is a first person experience that utilizes a flashlight to search through the dark environments in the game. Unlike the free game, Blue Isle Studios fleshed out the gameplay and mechanics a bit more to create a more fulfilling experience. The Arrival includes a stronger narrative that’s told through a series of texts that appear between stages as well as notes found throughout the game. Visual elements in the environments such as drawings on the walls and phrases etched into objects also helps add some nuances to the story. The game also feels much less like a sandbox environment and more like a series of stages that guides the player along a path attempting to create a scripted experience. Instead of running around a forest, The Arrival also takes players into an abandoned mine, a cave environment and more.
The goal of Slender: The Arrival is to explore the environments while attempting to collect the objects needed to move the experience forward. Depending on which portion of the game you’re in, players must find specific objects to pick up or interact with while essentially avoiding Slender Man. This type of gameplay works well with the cat-and-mouse nature of the game but can also become quite repetitive as you progress since the core gameplay basically consists of just finding hidden items. The game is split into five chapters and the further the player progresses through a chapter, the game triggers Slender Man to become faster at finding you. For example — in the second chapter, players must find eight pages hidden within the environments that contain small pieces of the narrative; the more pages the player obtains, the more aggressive Slender Man becomes. As soon as Slender Man comes relatively close to the player, the screen will begin to flicker and the music becomes more intense. If the player gets caught by Slender Man, it’s an automatic “game over”.
Don’t confuse Slender with titles like Amnesia or Haunting Grounds, though; the Slender Man doesn’t actually chase the player at all. He stands in the distance, quietly stalking the player as they progress through the game. Within the first chapter of the game, Slender Man doesn’t actually come after the player — he basically stands and watches the player’s movements from afar. I found spotting the silhouette of Slender Man in the distance quietly observing you to be a spine-chilling and effective way to frighten the player before the hunt begins.
Reaching the second chapter is basically the real start of the game since Slender Man begins his pursuit there. Once Slender Man becomes more aggressive due to level progression, he spontaneously appears and warps closer to you in an attempt to trap and consume you. This makes the experience very unnerving and forces the player’s sense of paranoia to explode to the point where you may be mistaking objects and trees as the Slender Man himself. The sense of dread and panic the game causes is pretty unique in a horror title since it makes you feel like the enemy constantly knows where you are and there isn’t any way to escape him. Ultimately, this makes Slender a very effective game at making the player feel uneasy and anxious to where each encounter with the Slender Man causes the player to panic and leap out of their seat.
Audio design in Slender: The Arrival is quite good with effective use of ambient noise throughout gameplay. Hearing strange noises in the environments, footsteps coming from different directions with no one in sight, and hair-raising screeches and screams echoing in the distance all add to the experience positively. Not to mention that the music that kicks in once Slender Man is in pursuit adds a huge sense of panic that will put the player on edge as soon as it begins to play. Out of all of the design elements in The Arrival, the audio quality is the star of the show.
As creepy and effective as the experience is, Slender: The Arrival can also become an exercise in frustration. Once the player gets close to completing a chapter, the enemy becomes so aggressive that it can become easy to get pinched in a corner and killed, making the player start the entire chapter all over again. Each item needed to move the chapter along are randomly placed throughout the environment in each playthrough, so planning out a course of action and snatching up the items systematically isn’t going to work here. Also, the game throws in The Proxy in the third chapter, who is a human servant of Slender Man that acts on his behalf, basically adding two enemies stalking the player and adding to the frustration. Thankfully, The Arrival isn’t a very long game and can be completed in just a few hours, but the trial-and-error nature of the gameplay may turn some gamers off. Honestly, a bit of patience is required to get through it.
The Wii-U version of Slender: The Arrival looks about the same as the other versions, but the environments are very jaggy and textures seem a bit muddier than the PC version. Given, the game isn’t much of a looker from the get-go due to its smaller budget, but I feel the game’s visuals could have been polished a bit more. Right from the start of the game, the framerate is pretty rough too and fluctuates quite often, making the game feel inconsistent and jarring in it’s performance. Luckily, the Wii-U version includes a few extra bells and whistles that players may be interested in. Playing the game with a Wii remote will allow the player to control the in-game flashlight using motion controls, adding a bit of immersion to the experience. I found myself much more comfortable using the analog sticks myself, but the option is there for those who want it. The game can also be played off screen using the gamepad, but I felt that using the gamepad killed some of the immersion for me but also made the game look less jaggy.
If anyone happens to be looking for a unique horror game to play this Halloween, Slender: The Arrival is a great title to look into. The game is available on just about any current platform imaginable, it retails at only $10 and it offers solid scares despite the repetitive nature of the gameplay and the frustration that may come with it. If you don’t mind the collect-a-thon nature of the gameplay and the lack of any kind of combat or defense mechanism, Slender is easily worth the asking price. Don’t expect the game to deliver anything overly deep or groundbreaking and you’ll most likely enjoy yourself. Turn out the lights, put on some headphones and allow the game to crawl under your skin and you’ll be set for a pretty frightening experience.