Slender Man (or Slendy, as his friends call him) was created by a forum poster in 2009, according to Wikipedia. A blurry, faceless man added to old photographs, the character soon caught the imagination of online horror fans of all ages. YouTube videos and several indie games followed, most notably a free downloadable title called Slender: The Eight Pages.
That game would serve as the inspiration for its much larger sequel Slender: The Arrival from Canadian developer Blue Isle Studios. This one casts players as several severely screwed people who are being stalked by the sinister Slender Man and his minions. Slender: The Arrival has just arrived on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, after launching on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows in 2013 and 2014.
Slender might just be the scariest game I've played. Read on for more details and to witness me freaking out in our exciting hands-on video!
The road to Slender
As the game begins, Lauren arrives at Oakside Park, an isolated suburban subdivision where her friend Kate lives. A tree mysteriously falls onto her car, forcing her to get out and walk along the dirt road to Kate's house.
You start playing just outside of Lauren's broken car, without having actually witnessed the accident. Slender conveys a surprising amount of information without the traditional cinematics or in-game animations that you'd see in a larger-budget game.
Upon entering Kate's house, players will soon realize that something has gone wrong. The door is open, and much of the place is in disarray. This portion of the game sees Lauren exploring the house and searching for clues to Kate's whereabouts. The sense of dread here is palpable, with ominous music and perhaps a few glimpses of someone you don't want to run into.
Eventually, Lauren has nowhere else to go but the path behind the house, which leads to a delightful scare and the end of the Prologue.
The Eight Pages
Slender: The Arrival is a relatively short game broken up into nine chapters, two of which are the Prologue and Genesis, an epilogue/prequel chapter. Individual chapters can be replayed at will after reaching them.
Several of the chapters differ slightly in play style, but the first one 'The Eight Pages' sets the tone for the game and how things will unfold. Lauren finds herself alone in Oakside Park at night. She carries only her camcorder (through which we witness most of the game) and a flashlight. The flashlight provides a minimal amount of light – this is one oppressively dark game, and turning up the brightness won't help.
During this first chapter, Lauren must collect eight pages scattered throughout the area in order to progress. The game doesn't tell you so. You just have to fumble around and figure things out, if you're not using a guide or reading my review like all the smart people do. The location of the pages is random, but they can only appear in ten different places. If you explore the park thoroughly enough, you'll find them and move on.
If you survive, that is. During this first level, Señor Slender takes notice of Lauren's presence and begins to chase her. Jefe is not bound by many of our reality's laws. He can disappear and reappear closer to you, even when you're looking at him. Your camera will freak out and distort as long as he remains close by; you can't even pause during these encounters.
Running is the one and the only way to deal with Slender Man. Unfortunately, Lauren's stamina will run out and slow her down after a short while. Sometimes she just gets unlucky, Slender appearing too close to escape. When he catches her, you have to restart the chapter from scratch. The lack of checkpoints ratchets up the tension because you really want to get away from him, so you don't have to look for those pages again.
More chapters of horror
Chapter 2: Into the Abyss proves the most challenging in the game. Lauren's search takes her to an abandoned mine. There she must activate eight generators in order to power an elevator and escape. The challenge increases because she is pursued by not only Slander Men but also the first of his minions, a freakish and violent girl. This chapter will require several attempts before you can succeed.
Subsequent chapters ditch the "find eight objects" objective, thankfully, and prove less stressful, as a result. Players will step out of Lauren's shoes briefly to experience the perspectives of a young boy, another one of Kate's friends, and even Kate herself. These levels mostly involve exploring and completing smaller objectives, plus a fair deal of running from Slender and a new minion.
Throughout the dread-filled adventure, you'll find a vast number of collectible letters and documents. Yes, it has become a horror game cliché to fill in the story via collectibles. But this form of storytelling fits well with the game's low budget nature.
You only get the tiniest glimpses and hints of story during actual gameplay. Yet should you find enough of Slender's 50 collectibles, the overall story and the fate of each character becomes clear. The high-quality writing really casts the game's events and participants in a new light.
A bogus bonus chapter
The final chapter, 'Genesis' unlocks when you complete the main game. A remake of the original freeware Slender game, 'Genesis' sees Kate searching for eight pages in a park. The page searching is the least enjoyable mechanic in the main game, but I guess 'Genesis' needed to be included for posterity.
However, despite the smaller map and only 10 possible page locations, I could only find six pages during my four attempts at the level. Plenty of people watched me play on Twitch can attest to this; we checked every location and the last two pages weren't there. To make things even more frustrating, Slender becomes unavoidably fast as this particular level goes on. It's not scary or fun, just annoying.
Is it possible to find all eight pages on Xbox One? Let us know if you pull it off!
The Xbox One version of Slender boasts the same 20 Achievements as its 360 predecessor, this time worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Many are fun, optional goals such as playing all of the songs on a radio and playing a tune on a piano.
On my first playthrough, I found 47 of the 50 collectibles. Figuring out which ones you're missing proves difficult, because the game doesn't number them in a logical way and I haven't found a list online that matches the weird numbering. You probably want to use this video-based guide to pick them up.
Be sure to play on Normal (not Easy) during your first run so you get the Achievement for beating the game. The hardest Achievements will be beating the game on Hardcore difficulty and three speedrun Achievements.
Beware the Slender Man (and Xbox One specifics)
Don't expect much in the way of improvements for the Xbox One version of Slender. The game still looks aggressively low budget, with low resolution textures and glaringly low-polygon models for characters and enemies. Slender can't hold a candle to its ID@Xbox horror competitor Outlast in those departments. The sound design, omnipresent darkness, and challenging gameplay provide the scares here, not the visuals.
It will probably take anywhere between 3-5 hours to beat Slender the first time through, with additional plays in store for Achievement hunters. The short length and chapter-based nature actually fit the game well. I don't know about you, but I can only take so much tension and dread before I need a break. Also, in these days of $15-20 downloadable titles, the $9.99 price ends up being quite fair for a game of Slender's scale.
Slender: The Arrival's exploration-based gameplay and complete inability to fight back against pursuers won't appeal to everybody. Slender runs with the themes and concepts of found footage horror movies and Japanese movies like The Ring and The Grudge. That helplessness and fear won't be for everybody, but it scared me really nicely.
Note: During launch week on Xbox One, Xbox Live Gold members can get Slender for $6.99.