Slender: The Arrival

Search for your childhood friend and elude a terrifying, merciless being
 
Release: March 26, 2013 (Mac, PC)
 
By Ian Coppock, Originally Published on July 26, 2013
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I could take up loads of time explaining that the past month has been pockmarked by illness, job hunts, and moving out of my apartment, but these reasons seems mundane in the face of another reason I’ve been away from Belltow3r Gaming for over three weeks: mainstream games aren’t exciting me right now. I hate to say it, but this next generation of console games is about the most soulless and unexciting lineup of “genericism” I’ve ever seen. Mindless polished shooter after mindless polished shooter. Where’s the atmosphere? The enriching stories? Give me a terrain I can traverse, not just stare at from a fixed linear path.
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With nothing interesting coming out this summer, I’ve been reaching back further and further for games that actually present something tangibly atmospheric. I then came to the stunning realization that I’d not yet played Slender: The Arrival, a new horror game that came out this spring. I’ve probably overlooked it because BioShock Infinite came out on the same day this one did. Needless to say, I’ve since rectified my gross negligence and am now prepared to spew story and artwork-speak.
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The Story
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The Arrival is the highly anticipated sequel to Slender, a short indie horror game that came out about a year ago. I reviewed it as part of the Short Horror Week lineup in February for its simple, powerful horror mechanics. I’ve been playing it as much to get scared as to reduce my body temperature (it’s goddamn hot out there).
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In the game, players have to navigate a pitch-black forest, armed only with a flashlight. The goal is to collect eight notebook pages scattered around the environment while avoiding the Slender Men, a tall, faceless creature that will kill you if you look at him for too long.
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This game is still the toast of indie horror. Parsec Productions should consider marketing it to the constipated.
Slender: The Arrival takes place sometime after that blood-chilling midnight forest adventure. You are Lauren, a silent protagonist who pops in to visit her close friend Kate, who’s just sold a house on the edge of a spooky forest. Upon arriving, Lauren finds the house wrecked and abandoned.
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AAAAH! Okay, okay, channel Bob Ross: “Happy little trees there, man…” (sob)
As Lauren searches the house, she begins hearing strange noises and catches glimpses of someone outside. She ignores these, as horror heroines have an unfortunate habit of doing. I have to say that this was an excellent start to creating a spooky atmosphere. Signs of a hasty departure, swinging doors, the sound of crunching leaves… I tensed up so much that you could’ve taken away my computer chair and I would have kept that pose.
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Seriously, don’t just shrug that off as nothing. I feel like a tall, pale, faceless dude blocking your exit is SOMETHING.
Lauren is forced to flee the house and search for Kate in the nearby woods, where she must find eight pages hinting at Kate’s whereabouts. She gets followed and attacked by an increasingly aggressive Slender Man, who tries to prevent her from learning the truth; he’s been tailing and haunting Kate her entire life.
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Lauren’s search for Kate takes her through some conveniently stringed together and scary environments, including a cavern, a mine shaft, an abandoned radio tower and a park. Players who explore the area thoroughly can find notes of correspondence between Kate and a childhood friend only known as “CR”. The pair have bonded over their being followed by the Slender Man. The exchange is hauntingly beautiful and sad. It reminded me of the letters read aloud in Dear Esther.
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CR’s identity is a mystery, but the letters shed light on the Slender Man and Kate’s efforts to avoid him.
Part way through the journey, Lauren is attacked by another antagonist, whom I will call the Masked Man, due to his resemblance to the character of the same name from the Marble Hornets video series. Unlike the stoic Slender Man, who rarely moves and can only attack when being looked at, the Masked Man is a frenzied psychopath who physically chases Lauren. He attempts to beat her to death and relentlessly pursues her. His connection to Kate and the Slender Man is shrouded in mystery… at first.
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Oh this is bullcrap. I paid my ticket at that Marilyn Manson concert, what’s his beef with me?
As with all things good and intriguing, there’s a lot of spoilable material here that I can’t get into. I will say that The Arrival refers to a singular, important event, and that the game hints at the origins of the Slender Man. Until now, all the media concerning him have been pretty quiet on that question.
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Lauren’s search for Kate while repelling multiple terrible foes makes for an interesting premise, but overall I was disappointed with The Arrival. The game is split across seven very short levels, one of which is a glitzy remake of the original Eight Pages adventure. I beat the game in about an hour and was left grasping for more.
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Terrifying, right? I wish Blue Isle had put as much effort into Slender Man as they did the rest of the game.
In addition to being short, the game is repetitive. Each level is essentially a repetition of finding the eight pages, they just swap it out for finding six generators or closing eight windows… or finding eight more pages. There’s some exploration involved, but most of the environments are pretty linear and confining.
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Frankly, I expected a lot more from a studio that not only promised to be narrative-heavy, but even hired the Marble Hornets boys to write the script. These dudes face off against Slendy in their own Youtube series, and the videos are pretty well done. Because they wrote the story, the game can’t not be compared to the story-rich series, and it’s a comparison that falls flat.
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HEY! Reveal yourself! So that I can care about the characters!
I hate to keep pulling punches on a game I want to really love, but Blue Isle Studios also went too vague on the characters. I know that part of what makes horror horror is keeping everything blurry, but I need some reason to care about these characters. I know next to nothing about this girl I’m supposed to be looking for and I know nothing about my own character except her name. Just a little more to go off of? Please? If you give me more backstory, I’ll have more reason to care… and therefore be more terrified. Everyone wins.
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Finally, the gameplay is little changed from that of the original Slender. In fact, Slendy is less dangerous than he was in the original. If you look away just as he hoves into view, you’re fine. To be fair, they did shake things up by letting him teleport in front of you and, terrifyingly, allowing him to move.
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Slender: The Arrival is by all means scary and disconcerting, but the game feels too short, half-finished and skeletal. I think Parsec and Blue Isle saw how well Slender was received and decided little needed to change for the sequel, but all that did was make the game feel shallow. I know too little about these characters. The gameplay is essentially the same level over and over again. Bleh.
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The Artwork
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Blue Isle Studios designed some beautiful environments for this game. It’s not the most elegant mapping I’ve ever seen, but it gets the job done. The environments do a good job of creating atmosphere; Lauren traverses abandoned and nighttime areas in her search for Kate, and the emptiness of these places piles on the spooky.
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Neato! Still do not want to go the hell in there!
I also found the music to be particularly noteworthy. It’s slow and mournful, with quick violins and ramping energy whenever you encounter the Slender Man. This combines with the environments to create a sour, scary taste that I really liked. It’s just a shame the gameplay and story were so shallow.
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Should I get it?
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As with Amnesia, I can only recommend this game to horror fans. The Arrival is still a tense and scary game, despite its shortfalls. The Slender Man is a merciless, unknowable fiend, and the Masked Man adds some much-needed flavor to a formula that gets a little much about halfway through the game. It could have been longer, it could have been deeper, but for $10, you could do a lot worse. I guess what I’m trying to say is give this game a miss unless you’re a diehard Slender fan. It throws some interesting concepts at the Slender mythos, but stops short of being a satisfying narrative.
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