Posted: July 9, 2014
Slender: The Arrival is the follow-up to the popular freeware horror game, Slender: Eight Pages, being made by the people responsible for making Slender so popular (Mark J. Hadley, creator of Slender: Eight Pages, and the Marble Hornets team who made a series of Slender-themed YouTube videos). It's not just another Slender clone though, it goes for a more cinematic approach to gaming, and not as in fixed cutscenes or QTEs, but in providing an interactive cinematic horror experience.
The stories pretty simple. You are going to check in on a friend who lives deep in the forest who hasn't been responding to calls, texts, or emails for the last few days. Turns out, there's evil that lurks in these woods... Now can you escape?
Slender: The Arrival is probably the closest you'll get to playing a found-footage horror film in game form, at least yet. The way everything is told through the gameplay's lens, the 'folk-story' tone the game goes with the legend, the execution of how Slender and the events that transpire work, feels very much in-line with a found-footage horror film, except you are the driver and the one tasked with capturing it all and surviving.
In that regard, Slender: The Arrival is a very cool experience. It has some good build-up, atmosphere, and escalates the situation while still retaining a more down-to-earth feeling. All through gameplay, you experience a series of events and have to respond to them.
The basic Slender gameplay is still there... Collect different items and avoid the big tall man in the suit, but there's more to it here, and this is often where the split in opinion on this game begins.
The game is rather short, and honestly you probably spend more time just exploring places in-between the game's 'main' stages than you do actually playing the core Slender gameplay.This mainly involves going around locations, like a forest trail or a house, and opening doors to get to the next story location.
Slender: The Arrival is split into nine 'stages', five of them in the story, one as a secret hidden level, two of them were added post-patch to make a hidden new miniature story, and one as a bonus stage. Beating the story should take 2-4 hours the first time (the five main stages), and consist of two stages with you actually collecting items, two scenarios with you avoiding Slender via other means 'cinematically', and most of these stages as well as one stage entirely having 'build-up' situations where nothing actually happens, but it builds-up to the next main gameplay scenario.
The length and the cinematic direction the game takes will turn some people off, but on my part it actually made me enjoy the game more. It legitimately feels like a playable found-footage horror film, and has charm and atmosphere in its design and oppressive stages. I found myself enjoying it during its short course.
I even got scared a few times, something the original Eight Pages and many Slender clones don't do to me. Scariness is subjective, but a feat I must mention as I don't actually find the character of Slender to be scary in general.
This said, I found myself more terrified by Slender's 'unidentified' masked assistant than Slender himself. She's a stalker who appears in a specific stage in the game, and her sounds, appearance, animations, and the environment you encounter her in legitimately made me afraid of her for a time.
However, for all of this 'cinematic charm' I'm spouting about, the game maybe alienated its main audience in some ways, as part of the charm of the original Slender game was with its minimalistic atmospheric gameplay and dreary feeling without need for story, explanation, and just throws you right in. This is a very different experience and very different game, and these changes completely alters the audience the game is designed for... And unfortunately, with a character who's been popularized like Slender, it can mean the game's audience is potentially very small, as some have come to ridicule or dislike his popularity and character, and those that like him may not like the way the game is designed differently and more aimed as a playable cinematic horror game.
I feel fond of it though, and it happens to be my favorite Slender-based game for the very reason of how its different. I find it to be enjoyable to play, and to experience, and craft an interesting world and scenario that was immersive to go through.
This all said, the best parts of the game maybe came out of the optional content. The 'bonus stage I mentioned is simply a recreation of the original Eight Pages game you can play outside of the main story, but a lot prettier. The game has difficulty levels and randomized features through all of its stages which is interesting. There are a variety of secrets and Easter eggs in the game, including a hidden ending.
The two post-patch stages based around a village and a farm take criticism from the game and made really moody set-pieces that add extra elements to the story, though finding them is a bit tricky as they require specific actions during the game's main story.
And for me, the absolute best part of the game was the secret level. I don't want to spoil it here, but at least for me, it was definitely the creepiest part of the whole game, but a shame most probably wouldn't find it without looking it up... It's pretty well hidden.
Slender The Arrival isn't for everybody and ditches the minimalist direction for something more akin to a game version of a found-footage horror film, but during its short duration it delivers an interesting different take on both Slender and cinematic horror games. I'd say worth a trip for those who think the idea of playing a found-footage horror film sounds appealing.