Slender: The Arrival Review – PlayStation 4

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I’m only remotely familiar with the whole Slender Man phenomenon.   A few years ago my niece mentioned it was the scariest game on her iPhone, so I checked it out and wasn’t all that impressed.   Then came the big news story about the 12-year-old girls who stabbed their friend in the woods so Slender Man would appear to them and prove he was real.   Seriously?  I had assumed this passing fad was long gone until a PS4 review code showed up for Slender: The Arrival.   If tall, dark, and skinny was coming to next-gen consoles maybe I need to check this out.

After completing the game (if you can call it that) I’m not sure what to think.   Is this a proof-of-concept demo, the first installment in an episodic series, or just a quick cash-grab for unsuspecting gamers?  I love a good scare; games like The Evil Within, Outlast, or even the PT game that has you walking down the same L-shaped hallway 20-30 times.   Slender offers nothing substantial and what few scares it does manage to stir up are cheap “screeching cat jumping out of the dumpster” moments.

There isn’t much in the way of gameplay.   You start the game at dusk as you exit your car and being the walk down a short path to a new subdivision currently under construction.  There is no setup and no real story other than what you find by picking up and reading various bits of text and listening to recordings.  Your first and most important objective is to find the flashlight, because once the sun goes down no amount of gamma correction will peel back the darkness of this game.   Seriously; the flashlight is on the coffee table in the room to your left as you enter the house.  That’s not a spoiler.  That’s just helping you from quitting before you even get started.

One thing Slender does well is tease and lure you in the right direction using its own environments.  While you are searching the house a distant scream nudges you into the backyard and through the gate toward a generator that turns on distance lights that lure you to a new generator, new homes in various stages of construction, and one that is even burned out.  The entire game is played through the viewfinder of your camera which will periodically fizzle to indicate Slender Man is nearby.  Ironically, in the early part of the game you will actually walk towards him (often a silhouette on a distant hilltop) to progress through the game, but all too soon you will be running for your life screaming like a little girl.

Once you reach the second half of the game (which only takes 20-30 minutes) you will be tasked with finding eight pages scattered about the procedurally generated forest.   Note the words “procedurally generated”, which means that each time you die and restart, the level and the note locations will be randomly populated, although in my six trips through the woods I only saw about three actual variations.

Collecting the first few notes seems relatively easy and a subtle blue lens flare will always guide you to any nearby point of interest like a tower, supply shed, map kiosk, outhouse, rowboat, or even a bathhouse.  But the more notes you collect the more aggressive Slender Man’s pursuit becomes.   At first he might be off in the distance, but by the time you are hunting down that last note he will be right in your face, forcing you to quickly turn and run and hope he doesn’t materialize right in front of you.  If you pause for more than a second or two the camera is sure to fizzle and your heartbeat will start thumping indicating you had better RUN!

Apparently this game is already available on the PC and PS3, and from what I read the PS3 port was pretty bad.  The PS4 looks good enough for what the game is and does.  You start off with the orange glow of a sunset but are quickly cast into pure darkness with only the cone of your flashlight and any environmental illumination to light the way.  What the game lacks in visuals it more than makes up for with some of the most terrifying ambient sounds.  The camera fizzle combined with the increasingly loud and quickening heartbeats will send shivers down your spine.

Slender: The Arrival is a fun diversion that is worth maybe $2-3.  PS Plus members should definitely get for free.   Despite the randomized levels there is little reason to revisit this 60-90 minute game, although you may get some twisted pleasure from watching your friends squirm while they play.   Blue Isle Studios has set an intriguing foundation for what could become a terrifying new franchise, but they are going to have to add a whole lot more content and some gameplay that goes beyond me blindly running around the woods look for notes while avoiding an anorexic Agent 47.

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