Slender is a wonderful reminder that the classic horror genre still has its place in gaming. Completely dependent on atmosphere and sound, Slender embraces its simplicity much like the original Blair Witch Project. There’s nothing more dreadful than the fear of the unknown and the game relies on mystery and lore to carry its narrative and gameplay. The horrifying, albeit brief, journey through the original Slender beautifully orchestrated the sense of isolation and panic that insinuated hopelessness and vulnerability by giving you a single tool as means of survival, a flashlight. Can the sequel (or rather the re-imagining) expand upon the predecessor’s success, or does it stretch itself too thin by playing it safe?
You’re visiting your friend Kate who recently lost her mother and is trying to sell her house. Upon arrival, you find the house in disarray and Kate missing. Soon you discover mysterious notes hinting at an eerie figure and you begin tracking down clues to uncover the mystery behind your friend’s disappearance. The game’s visual overhaul is immediately apparent and I applaud the developers for going the extra mile and fleshing out the environments beyond the simplistic forest scene of the original. The gritty tone overlaying the more colorful surroundings amplifies the feeling of angst, particularly in the opening chapter that begins during daytime.
On the flip-side the game is very poorly optimized. Our beefy rig that can run nearly every major title on ultimate settings barely pushed a steady 30 fps. Turning off Vsync and running D3D Overrider helps tremendously, but I hope the developers patch up the inconsistencies. Considering the slow pacing, the constant fps drops break the immersion and unless you have a powerful gaming PC, you’re forced to run the game on low settings just to make it playable.
The Slender experience is reminiscent of a haunted house ride. You’re more of an observer than an active participant, but don’t be fooled by the simple premise. Most of the levels (chapters) are simple fetch quests, but when you fear for your life with every step you take, the simple act of turning around evokes panic. The second chapter is practically a direct re-imagining of the first game as you walk around the woods collecting 8 mysterious pages. Fortunately, the environments are more distinct and you don’t find yourself running in circles as much.
Further tasks have you collecting parts to activate various devices and so forth, but it’s ultimately the same thing over and over. This is my biggest gripe with the sequel. More of the same is not necessarily better in the case of Slender, especially when such a large portion of content feels like filler material. You could beat the predecessor in less than twenty minutes, which was a suitable length for the type of gameplay, but now it feels unnecessarily long – even though it only takes an hour to beat. Making things worse are the unbelievably cheap deaths that only serve as an illusion of challenge. Once you reach a certain point, a new antagonist is introduced who oftentimes teleports right in front of you killing you in an instant. It feels lazy and takes away from an otherwise extraordinary experience.
Where Slender truly deserves the utmost praise is in the audio department. To genuinely experience the terror of being stalked in the middle of nowhere, you must play this game with headphones on (or a solid surround system). The echoing of your own footsteps conjures up paranoia as you frantically react to every crackle and whistle. One moment you’re listening to the grass crunching underneath your feet, the next you’re sprinting away from the onset of static as Slender inches closer. If you want to get scared, Slender certainly delivers.
Slender: The Arrival succeeds in delivering a terrorizing and frightful journey but stumbles in providing a polished gaming experience. As a one-time playthrough, I’d recommend it over most of today’s horror films, but if you’re expecting immersive gameplay mechanics you might be disappointed. Once all the tricks are out on the table there’s little to warrant a second look. To some, an increased difficulty mode and the random spawning of items might justify the incentive for replayability, but the repetitiveness and occasional unfairness prevent the sequel from reaching the original’s cult status. Nevertheless, considering that every “survival-horror” game these days hands us a gun and unlimited ammo, Slender strips the player of any sense of security, throws them into the woods, and turns off the lights…and for that…it deserves your attention.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC