Review: Slender: The Arrival
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I’m not really a Slender guy, and no I’m not talking about my unfortunate dad bod. I enjoyed the great white hype when he was a creepy photoshop insert but lost interest in his multimedia exploits. And so it is with idle curiosity that I turn to his Arrival here, in the hopes that he makes a compelling and terrifying antagonist to escape from. It turns out he really doesn’t, though, and after a good hour or so in his domain I feel more like a forgetful secretary or a handyman than a horror protagonist. I’m going to explain this disappointment in detail but that’s going to take spoilers, so if you really want to experience the yawns yourself, stop reading here and get to it.
I usually open these things with a plot synopsis but Slender: The Arrival makes the unfortunate choice to provide absolutely NO narrative outside of its customary horror notes. I’ve found maybe half the ones laid in my path so far and have only gleaned enough of the story to know that I don’t care about it. There’s a guy and a lady and they found Slenderman and the guy ran off and the lady followed him and I’m following them, I think? Whatever the story is it’s a serious let-down in that nothing you do seems to affect it or even reveal much of it, leaving you to just escape certain death because you were stupid enough to wander into it in the first place.
The opening level has you wandering down a country road to a brand new house, seemingly the first of a new subdivision. The place has been tossed and someone scribbled spooky things on the walls, so after unlocking some doors you wander off into the woods. Along the way I found a burned-out house with a shy zombie inside, something unexpectedly benign and (as far as I know) entirely unrelated to the Slenderman. There’s literally nothing threatening in this first chapter and even for someone as jumpy as me, the dark woods and low soundtrack and poofing zombie failed to put me on edge. But maybe once I was in some actual danger it’ll get scary, I thought.
I thought wrong, because Slenderman is about as threatening as a coat rack and escaping him is more a clerical matter than a horror one. The second level sticks you in a pitch-black wilderness park with a flashlight and instructions to collect eight pages. Your start point, the landmarks, and the pages are randomly placed every time so exploring is both essential and infuriating because you can’t hardly see a godddamned thing and there’s no map. Every page you pick up makes the Slenderman come after you harder but he doesn’t move. The dude just teleports around and then stands there, and if you get too close or stare too long you go nuts.
Collecting pages and running from a scarecrow in a suit got so tedious I eventually gave up and embraced death with 6 of 8 pages collected. Apparently that was enough to get me a pass on Easy mode, which took me to a mine where I had to activate 6 generators before a zombie in a hoodie ate me. This one actually runs after you but you can lose it by waving your flashlight in its face. After that is a pastoral walk around a mountain with a teddy bear who flashes you back to the abduction of the dumbest kid on Earth, and then an old tube TV you can play through other flashbacks on via the magic of VHS.
Slender: The Arrival has a severe problem with building tension, in that it can’t be scary without being tedious. The only reason Slenderman is any threat at all is because you’re stuck running around the same places looking for things. It’s up to the story then to convince me he’s some kind of all-powerful existential threat but the story is obscured behind notes and is limited to the ravings of two people you never meet. And he’s only really present for the middle 20-30 minutes of the game, because before that it’s just dark and after that you’re playing through empty areas that really should have been cutscenes. Add to that the unexplained zombies who manage to be more of a threat than the tall skinny fellow and I have to wonder why anyone takes him seriously at all.
Even the art has trouble keeping up with the atmosphere, opening up right from the beginning with some glaringly misbalanced light levels and low-effort furniture. The mine doesn’t look like any sort of place actual humans would work, and the mountaintop has you following improbably steep paths around dirty, blurry lumps of rock. I’ll give the sound design credit for including some jarring tracks and effects, but that’s really the only kudos the game gets. For a monster so celebrated and storied, Slender: The Arrival fails to make Slenderman interesting, frightening, or much of a presence at all. If I wanted to wander around and be harassed by some dude, I’d much rather play Dear Esther.