And there it is. Without a warning. Just bam. The screen starts to tear up, the image gets snowy, the sound is becoming distorted, because there it is. Suddenly. Just standing there smack dab in the middle of your lone flashlight’s illumination. What it – or him? – actually looks like, the technicalities and details, are not important, because you don’t want to know. You want to look away. Run away. Any direction. Switch off your precious light source, and run, run until your lungs give up and you have at least a tiny bit of certainty that it – or him? – isn’t just waiting to embrace you in that unnaturally long appendages of his behind the next tree.
This is what happens when playing Slender. Slender is an independently developed, Unity engine based horror game. It is a game that takes on the Slenderman myth, popularized by the (exceptional) Marble Hornets series of YouTube videos. Marble Hornets is clearly the prime influence on Slender’s look and feel. The protagonist is carrying a camera, and a flashlight. It’s nighttime and for some reason we’re in a fenced in part of the woods, looking for pages, for clues on the Slenderman. Too bad that once one of the pages is found, said creature starts to come after us.
Slender is probably one of the most intense and creepy games I’ve played in a very long time. This might have something to do with it being a too close for comfort rendition of Marble Hornets’ most horrifying moments. As of now, it’s a very simple little game, almost experimental in scope. It feels like a proof of concept. This can be done, and it’s very effective. It’s a horror game that beats Amnesia in being horrifying. And that’s no mean feat for something that’s the beta of a not-for-profit indie title.
Why is Slender the most effective horror thing I’ve encountered? As I said, for me it’s potency derives from the fact that I am an avid fan of the Marble Hornets series. Being familiar with the figure and the connected associations just adds on top of the whole experience. But even for those not familiar with the whole story, Slender should still be very effective, because as far as horror games go, it knows what it’s doing. Just as in Amnesia, there’s nothing you can do about the thing stalking you. Worse, you cannot even look at it, it cannot even be in your field of vision for long, lest you want to lose your — virtual — mind. Which equals game over.
The only option is to run away, switch off the flashlight, and wait. A process which pretty much ensures that the player will lose orientation quickly, since there’s no such thing as a map, mini- or otherwise. No way of leaving markers or anything. Once the creature scares you into the brush, finding your way back can be difficult. I honestly can’t say if the creature actually moves. So far, it seems to only appear a few paces away from the character and just stand there, looking straight at you with its eyeless, featureless white face.
There are eight pages to find, randomly scattered through the game world. With each page, the creature draws closer. So the player has to explore the dark forest, looking for clues and hidden locations that might give up another one of the pages, while carefully being on the lookout for the creature. The only hints are the screen tearing, in a way bearing a certain similarities to Silent Hill’s radio static. Pages and appearances of the creature are both randomly generated. So there’s very little predictability on when or where your ethereal stalker will turn up next. Also, each playthrough has the pages randomized and hidden at different points in the game world. And while there are certain special locations which usually house one, finding the actual page requires the player to investigate the sites thoroughly. Which gives plenty of opportunities for the game to spawn the creature just around the next corner.
Slender is in beta right now, the creator is still adding things to it, but so far they’re on the right track. This is a game that once more proves that horror games don’t need gooey monsters and shotguns. I’ve always been convinced that fighting in horror games is the worst distractor from the scares. This game once more proves it. I wish we could see a bigger production using these exact scare tactics, telling a bigger story. Who knows. Maybe someone will give the creator of Slender a decent budget some day. My faint heart sure doesn’t wish so, my lust for thrills though, wholeheartedly disagrees.
You can find the download links for a Windows and a Mac version of Slender here.