You have to collect eight pages whilst a tall bloke chases you. That’s one possible elevator pitch for Parsec Productions’ indie-developed title Slender, and taken at face value that statement hardly instils the audience with the pure consternation, and brilliance, that the final item evokes. Yet, in such a form was the challenge presented to myself by a good friend whom I respect and, until that point, trusted.
Having been out of the loop for some time I’d not encountered any mention of Slender or its mythos before today. With retrospect, the website, from which the game may be downloaded for free, gives a solid indication that this is in fact a horror game. I know this because it says so. On the front page. In the gaming medium, however, horror (the survival-horror adage being increasingly used in this context, to the point of having become almost synonymous) is an umbrella term branded around as loosely as the claret usually found within the genre. An individual is presented with a variety of tools to win situations that are beyond the realms of normality, with various degrees of character-empowerment or vulnerability.
Early survival horror games such as Atari’s Haunted House and Capcom’s first three Resident Evil titles relied on puzzles and inventory management as core mechanics. Experiences such as Dead Space and F.E.A.R, both excellent titles, are shooters dressed in scary attire. Amnesia: The Dark Descent recently broke the mould by keeping the malevolence hidden, teasing the player of the dangers abound whilst offering no method of defending oneself from the horrors within. But amidst the sinister quiet lurks a narrative, a compulsion for the player to persevere and perhaps learn of the underlying mysteries. Slender steps beyond Amnesia’s threshold, daring the player to continue wandering the forest whilst offering absolutely little incentive for doing so beyond potential bragging-rights. I’m inclined to argue that Slender is not so much survival horror, not even so much horror, as a fear simulator. Primal fear, too; the dark, the unknown, your imminent demise and your predator all deserve your terror. There is no four-hour story-arc, no puzzles and not a single Beretta to save you. You have a torch, with limited battery. You can jog but you become tired. And these are your only tools. Your enemy is slow, not even existing until you find your first page, and then gaining speed with each subsequent one that you discover. And your gameworld poses the final threat; fog obscures your vision; brutal ninety degree corners potentially harbour a sinister individual; the audio gains intensity the further and longer you proceed through the darkness, searching for the next randomly-placed scrawling. The longer you last the more powerful your adversary becomes and each passing moment prolongs the terror.
And your adversary is a terror indeed. Based upon a legend created on the Something Awful forums, generated simply for the purpose of designing something scary, the Slender man is a contemporary terror, playing to contemporary fears. The almost J-horror quality of his appearance, or lack thereof, may shock even those raised upon The Grudge and Marebito. To everyone else, from faint-hearted to cynical, he will at least disturb and at most terrify. Fittingly, it’s the very sight of him that kills you. The closer he is the faster your demise. You last longer gazing without shining your torch upon him, but without your torch he can get closer.
Let me just say at this point, that I didn’t last more than seven minutes. The first four I was lost. I only found two pages. And I only saw him once. Once was enough for me. It’s utterly, utterly brilliant. The masochist in me cannot recommend this game enough. Unsurprisingly, the sadist in me is inclined to agree.
Slender is free to download right here. Do so. AT YOUR PERIL!