Created on a photo editing forum in 2009, Slender Man is the product of a competition to create the scariest image. Though originally no more than a blurry silhouette, Slender Man quickly became an icon, a modern mythical legend.
Dozens of fan fictions and YouTube videos are testament to how rapidly the modern horror story has grown. In June 2012 the first Slender Man game was released- Slender: The Eight Pages. The Eight Pages is a very short and fairly simple game, in it players must collect eight pages scattered throughout a forest before Slender Man catches them. Despite clearly being made on a tight budget, and seemingly more of a tech demo than a full game, The Eight Pages received a lot of complimentary feedback and a significant following.
Slender: The Arrival looks to capitalise on the unexpected success and popularity of the original game. An enhanced and expanded version rather than a sequel, it contains more areas to explore, improved graphics and even creepier audio. The Arrival engages its audience in a way few modern games do. The creepy atmosphere and constant sense of danger make it genuinely scary.
The disturbing environments are nearly photorealistic. Imposing forests, abandoned buildings, and eerie caverns are all explored in the quest to rescue a friend and defeat the ever pursuing Slender Man. The screen is arranged as if looking through a camcorder, whenever danger is nearby it fiercely distorts indicating that it is time to run. When panicked, running causes motion blur. These effects do a good job of enhancing the confusion and make the unseen terrors seem like a tangible force.
The visual flair is impressive but it's sound design that really creates tension. Some of The Arrival's most terrifying moments come courtesy of the audio. Constant droning that emanates throughout, it's occasionally interrupted by moans, screams, giggles, footsteps and electronic crackles. Whenever a new clue is found another sound joins the medley, by the end of the stage it's a strikingly creepy cacophony.
Slender Man can't be hurt, so rather than weapons the only useable item is a flashlight with two settings - a wide beam and a long beam. Slender Man's minions are also present in The Arrival, just like their master they're lethal and invulnerable to attacks. There's a constant sense of helplessness knowing that the only option is to run - being able to use firearms would significantly hinder the carefully crafted sense of danger. Don't expect any mercy, enemies can spawn anywhere, you'll be caught by surprise more than once. Surviving requires significant luck but smart players learn to read the subtle indications and anticipate what lurks ahead to improve their odds.
Fear of the unknown is what makes the Slender Man character scary. Despite the campaign only being a few hours, spending this much time with him diminishes the impact he has. Strip back the fear and what's left isn't too impressive. Controls are tight for the most part but as all there is to do is walk, run and look around, there's no reason they shouldn't be.
The aim of each stage is essentially identical. Players run through increasingly disturbing environments in search of a certain number of objects. The campaigns a short one but even so the rinse and repeat gameplay grows tiresome. The environments may differ, but it's the same actions every time. Some collectibles and some hidden areas provide backstory and reveal more about Slender Man, these are nice inclusions but the longer you linger the more chance you have of getting caught so they're easy to overlook.
The first time playing can be genuinely unsettling. There are some great horror moments courtesy of amount of attention to design. It's just a shame that the more time spent with Arrival the less interesting it becomes. A short campaign, repetitive gameplay and limited mechanics make it difficult to recommend, but horror fans and players looking for a considered atmosphere might want to spend an evening or two escaping the clutches of this predatory monster.