– Provides a decent atmosphere of dread
– Gets at least one good jump scare out of you
– The Slender Man mythos is a ripe and scary one to draw from
– Made by one guy; that’s pretty good
– Sound design is fantastic
– Isn’t actually all that scary; more boring than anything
– Walking speed is absurdly, frustratingly slow
– Whatever algorithm spawns Slender is poor and borderline broken
– Running is useless, as is your feeble light
– Less of a game and more an experience, and not a very good experience at that
Slender Man is watching.
I have to preface this review with two things: I love horror games, and I love the Slender Man mythos. Devised by a group at Something Awful during a “photoshop a scary/supernatural element into regular pictures,” it depicted a tall, thin man who would just be standing behind normal, unaware people across a variety of pictures. A thin framework of backstory (regarding how he kidnapped children and those who sought him) was just vague enough to let one’s imagination do the rest, and the phenomenon that ensued resulted in both some fantastic Blair Witch YouTube videos as well as some pretty awful attempts to milk the idea for all it was worth.
So it makes sense that, after a time, a video game would be devised from this concept. Coming literally out of nowhere (much like the Slender Man himself), Slender showed up for free on PC or Mac, developed by one guy. Already this game has been touted as the “scariest game ever made,” spawning hundreds of Let’s Play videos on YouTube, reviews, and cult status. Gamers are dragging their non-gaming friends into dark rooms and forcing them to play for the delight of an internet audience, and for a while you couldn’t go anywhere on the internet without hearing about Slender.
So…as a hardened horror game (and film…and novel) fan, does Slender deliver? Well…let’s talk about that.
Slender has a very simple goal: collect eight pages dealing with the Slender Man’s origin (though really they are just random, creepy scratches) without getting spotted (or staring at) the Slender Man, who will kill you. The more pages you gather the greater the odds that ol’ Slender will pop out, your odds of survival steadily decreasing until you finally gather them all. And then (not to spoil the game) you die anyway, in true horror film fashion.
Let’s address the good first: the atmosphere. On initial play, Slender uses sound wonderfully. Initially, before you have any pages recovered, there is no background sound at all. After two pages faint drum beats will echo in the background. Gather some more and the creepy ambient noises will continue, overshadowing your footsteps. Aside from the static noise that comes up when Slender is near, these are the only real sounds in the game, aside perhaps the whistling of wind in the trees. It’s an excellent use of less-is-more horror, reminding me of the numerous silent moments that permeated the Silent Hill series.
Unfortunately, while the game might offer a few chills the first couple minutes, the real truth about the game comes out: Slender isn’t actually very scary. In fact, it’s more frustrating than anything.
You’ll be seeing these dumb trees a lot more than Slender Man, honestly. Or pages. Or anything.
Let’s just break down the basic game design here. You are thrown into the middle of a large, landmarkless woods. You have a pathetic flashlight that hardly lets you see a few feet in front of you, so honestly your better bet is to leave it off and just turn up your screen brightness (the light also attracts Slender, so I rarely even turned it on). The area is quite large with random landmarks appearing in different locations. The eight pages randomly spawn on eight of these landmarks, but it changes every time. That way you can’t learn the map, but it also means you can wander aimlessly around in the woods for five to ten minutes before finding a single page (or Slender for that matter, which happened my first playthrough). It’s tedium at its finest.
Exacerbating this monotony is the fact that your guy walks obscenely slow. You can sprint, but doing so causes him to flail his flashlight around like a massive moron having a seizure, so you have to run with your light off to even have it matter. Not that it does matter, because you can run around in circles for who knows how long without ever realizing it.
While the game’s atmosphere does make a lot of this tedious romp a bit unnerving, after a while with your mind breaking down what exactly is going on (and especially if you’ve played any good horror game ever, like Amnesia or Silent Hill 2), Slender seems more stupid than scary. My first run was around 20 minutes. I only got one page, and while it did give a pretty good jump scare on me when I died the first time, that’s all it really was: a jump scare. I was a bit unnerved during a few situations, but hardly enough to call this the “scariest game of all time.”
But perhaps the biggest issue in Slender is the title character himself: Slender Man.
The concept of Slender Man is creepy. Turning around to see a tall, suited man with no face just staring at you across the way is horrifying. Unfortunately, Slender doesn’t really get this right either.
Slender spawns randomly near you, unmoving, looking like a bad Gary’s Mod character. If you are close the screen starts to static, often before you even see the guy, and if you do look at him your screen fuzzies up so bad it’s almost impossible to discern him. While the fuzziness randomly appearing does evoke a sense of frantic searching (mostly so you know which direction to run), it also ruins the creepiness. Wouldn’t it have been scarier if he was coded to appear right in front of you if you turned your flashlight on? Or to spawn around corners? His spawn system seems completely random.
I see you there, unscary guy.
During my multiple playthroughs I actually encountered two experiences that fully show how unscary the spawning algorithm is. The first was when I was running through a wide open field, and Slender suddenly spawned right next to me. Did it make me jump? Sure. But he just…appeared. In the middle of an open field, standing there like an idiot right next to me. I actually ran into him (and didn’t die) because they spawned him so close. Where’s the suspense in that? He’s scary in the photoshops because he blends in, hard to see. It’s like the worst Where’s Waldo ever…you see nothing, and then BAM, he was there the whole time. Him just appearing next to me in a very “gamey” spawning sense ruins all immersion.
The second incident was almost comedic. I found a page attached to the back of a truck. When I then turned about, Slender had spawned there, standing in front of the truck’s headlights. The thing was that, since the truck was technically “obscuring my view,” I actually didn’t see static or take damage. He just…stood there, staring in the light, looking like an awful rendered tall blob. I jumped up and down and he didn’t do anything, shined my light in his face. It wasn’t until I stepped out from behind the truck that the game decided I was “taking damage” and had to run. Real scary, guys.
I’m a tree! RAAAAAAR.
I’m not trying to play the internet badass here, but I really don’t see how this game can be scary to anybody except people who haven’t played any horror games before. It uses the most basic levels of jump scares to try and catch you off guard, the game intentionally stripping you of any sense of empowerment but in all the wrong ways. While it does have some great atmosphere and will probably get one or two good jumps out of you, as a whole I was mostly bored with my Slender experience, so much so that I couldn’t keep playing. And keep in mind: I played this at night, in the dark, with headphones. I really wanted to be scared by this game.
There’s just too much working against it for me to recommend the game. Then again, it’s completely free, so if walking around really slow looking at trees is your thing then…by all means, download it. I hear they are already remaking it on the Source Engine, which I actually am looking forward to. If they can improve the algorithm that determines when and where Slender spawns, up the walk speed, and add a bit more to the game this could really be a creepy experience. As is, it feels like an unfinished tech demo for a bigger horror game, and as such you could just go play Amnesia or something and have a much better (and scarier) experience.
But again, it’s free, so you can always check it out regardless.