Slender Game Review
The Slenderman began as a creation of the Something Awful forums when, on June 8th 2009, a paranormal pictures thread was created. The objective of this thread was very simple: create a photograph that ‘unintentionally’ captures the image of a paranormal entity. While there were numerous submissions, one stood out above all the rest: Slenderman. Described as a very tall, faceless man in a suit, this shapeshifter hides in the shadows and stalks young children. Backstories were created for these photographs, and soon the Slenderman exploded in popularity as numerous internet-goers added on to the urban legend behind the creature. Since then, young artists have been inspired to go forth and build on the ‘legend’ of the Slenderman, some very notable examples being an internet television series called Marble Hornets, and the subject of today’s review: Slender.
Although we’re almost a month late talking about this, Slender is a game definitely worth writing about simply because of how scary it is. As a child, you are trapped in the woods at night, armed with nothing but a flashlight and a survival instinct. Driven to continue your journey into the abyss, you are tasked to collect 8 notes that talk about the Slenderman. If this wasn’t bad enough, the very creature you are trying to learn about is also stalking you, and he gets more tireless with each note you find. True, the sensationalist claims that it is scarier than Amnesia: The Dark Descent are a load of bull, but Slender still made me shake and whine like a baby. I’m definitely going back to my roots on this site by reviewing something horror-related, and I will tell you why Slender is definitely worth a download (besides the fact that it’s free, dearies!).
When I heard about this game from the fine folks at the Dead Horse Interchange, and found out that it was free to try, I initially had two thoughts: “WANT,” and “I’M GUNNA PEE MYSELF OH LORD.” Well, I looked all over the place to try and find it for the Mac since the official website didn’t have the downloads available. After a dozen failed attempts at trying to open the file where it just didn’t do anything, I finally found a working link in the description of this fine fellow’s youtube video. After all the anticipation, and after all the internet hype, I can very easily confirm that it was all absolutely right: Slender is terrifying. Even with playing the game while being logged onto Skype with two other people, I still shook, trembled, whined, and screamed when I was caught (a scream so manly that my brother thought I killed the dog). With its minimalist design, how the hell is a game like Slender so captivating and terrifying? The trick is in the finer details of its design.
A common failure in a lot of AAA modern horror games is that the true concept of scaring somebody is impossible with the current standard of gaming; while the true intent of a horror video game is to scare the crap out of someone, many of them can’t quite do that because many of the elements that frighten people are absent. As a species, mankind is afraid of two things: the unknown, and the dark. Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Silent Hill are two examples I have had the pleasure of personally experiencing where both of these fears are fully taken advantage of. Both games submerge their worlds in complete darkness, and the player is forced to work with a very limited amount of light. Alone, this makes gameplay very tense, but the fear of the unknown is exploited by including monsters that are either hideous bastardizations of the human form, or are so obscured by darkness that stopping to get a good look at them will result in your death. This is why I had to have somebody by my side to even finish Silent Hill 1 andSilent Hill 3, and why I’m too chickenshit to even consider finishing Amnesia. The problem with Resident Evil 5, Silent Hill: Downpour, and Dead Space 2, however, are that they completely miss the point of horror, and fail to effectively exploit people’s fears. Instead, AAA titles rely on the games looking as pretty and detailed as possible, the monsters showing themselves in full detail so that people can see, and not fear, them. The most effective monster is one that is not seen, as the human imagination can come up with anything far worse than any creature shown on-screen. The run-and-gun gameplay of AAA survival horror games are also terrible for the atmosphere, as the empowerment that comes with a weapon ruins any kind of tension and fear that could have been there. All in all, AAA ‘survivor horror games’ are a joke, and this is why we need to rely on Indie studios for the restoration of this genre, since apparently they are the only ones who know how to do it right. Slender is no exception to that rule.
The things that Slender excels in is establishing an atmosphere, which is something that the horror genre, at its best, is capable of pulling off very well. As I mentioned withSilent Hill or Amnesia: The Dark Descent, sticking the player in a dark place with a small source of light is an effective way of exploiting their fear of the dark, since you have that limited field of vision. What also doesn’t help your situation is that your battery actually runs out, so preserving your battery is important. By turning off your light, however, you are stuck in the dark. If you keep it on, you are at risk of the Slenderman finding you, since he is attracted to it, and risk running out of battery power. That just works to make things more intense for the player. The game’s atmosphere also soars to terrifying heights with its ambient soundtrack; when you first open the game, you hear the chirping of crickets, every single footstep you take, and the occasional gust of wind. After you pick up your first note, however, you hear loud booms in the distance, like giant footsteps of something slowly following you. After every two notes added to your collection, the soundtrack gets more and more terrifying, indicating that the Slenderman is getting hotter and hotter on your trail. The atmosphere the game creates is oppressive, intense, and scary as hell, and when layer after layer of sounds were added, I whimpered and whined more and more.
The fear of the unknown also comes into play, as the fear of the Slenderman lurking around any corner is what drives any player into sheer terror. In addition to the killer atmosphere that adds to the tension, that wouldn’t mean anything if the Slenderman wasn’t lurking around a corner and waiting to kill you. Since you have no way of defending yourself, you want to avoid the Slenderman at all costs, and that can get hard in some of the areas in the game (especially the infamous bathroom building in the middle of the woods). While the fear of the unknown is pantsbrowning in Slender, and seeing a brief glimpse of the Slenderman staring at you in the distance makes things more tense, seeing the Slenderman up close is another story. As I said above, the best monsters are those not seen, and this rings true when you see the 3D model for the Slenderman. While the rest of the game looks really good for an indie game, the monster itself has a horrible, motionless model. He looks more like a scarecrow, and while all that tension you built up comes out in a huge scream when he finally gets you, your death itself is underwhelming when looking at the game being played by someone else. While it is understandable that he has a very simple design by default, more could have been done to make the Slenderman a more terrifying force in the game. For example, in some of his photoshopped pictures, he has tendrils coming out of his back, so he could have had those whip around when you spot him in the distance. During the writing of this review, a new ending did come out for the game where, when he catches you, said tendrils do come out of his back, but I digress. Movement would not have hurt, either, because seeing him move from the corner of your eye would imply that he is actively chasing you. Don’t get me wrong, seeing Slenderman stand there and get closer is scary, but they could have at least made him move so that you can see him actively pursue you while he hides in the shadows. Regardless of this complaint, however, Slender is still a horrific experience due to the fear of the unknown, and the atmosphere established by the darkness and audio design.
One last thing to mention about Slender is how there are also two additional modes that you can explore once you finish the main game by collecting all 8 notes. The first secret mode is Daytime Mode, where you play the game over in the daytime. This means that you don’t have a flashlight that can run out of battery, and everything isn’t swallowed up in shadows. While you may be wondering why they even include this mode if daytime may not even be that scary, trust me – it still sets you on edge. Even though I haven’t played Daytime Mode all that much, it is still terrifying when Slenderman somehow teleports right in front of you. The one thing I will mention is that, without the use of shadows, the graphical limitations of the game are exposed for the whole world to see. Graphic snobs might be instantly turned off by this, but it’s an indie game that you found for free on the internet, so it’s pretty good all things considered. The second secret mode is $20 Off Mode where… well, just watch:
Is this game definitely worth a download? Yes. Is it constantly being improved with update after update? Yes. Will it make you cry for your mommy and/or possibly make you nearly crush your girlfriend in a hug of terror? Speaking from personal experience, yes yes yes. Slender may be incredibly short, and it may be graphically inferior to AAA horror games, but where it succeeds is in its soul-crushing atmosphere, its quake-inducing audio work, and its new, interesting modes. Slender has been the hot news of the internet this summer, and for very good reason, so please go out and give it a download from its official site! Links will be provided below.