When I was child, my parents would take me to a seasonal fair every year that was filled with rickety rides and rigged games. One attraction I often made sure to partake of was the haunted house. The ride forced you to sit next to another person, elbow to elbow, in a tiny train car that slowly proceeded through a house filled with “the most gruesome horrors of your imagination.” In essence, there was a bunch of dudes in werewolf masks howling, some crashing chandelier and Wilhelm scream sound effects, and, of course, several obviously fake heads sitting atop several silver platters. Every year the ride managed to frighten me for the first minute or so as we rounded the corner in the darkness, my mind and heart racing as I prepared for the first big beastie to hop out of the black and scream at me.
My knees would go numb, and I would holler as loud as I could. But after that first fright, the ride simply wasn’t scary anymore. Everything that followed the monster’s initial appearance was something to marvel or laugh at. Comparing Slender: The Arrival to a haunted house ride might seem like I’m paying the game a compliment, but it’s only because of its numerous flaws that those memories pop up in the first place.
To be fair, The Arrival, much like its predecessor (Slender: The Eight Pages) is initially very, very frightening. The original game had you hunting for eight pages featuring creepy illustrations of Slenderman and other various clues as the eponymous monster hunted you in a dark forest. The Eight Pages managed to terrify the bejeezus out of me during my initial playthrough because of the game’s effective minimalist design, which emphasized on creating an atmosphere of uneasiness and terror through sound effects and the antagonist’s unpredictable movements.
You have no weapons to speak of, so your only option is to track down those eight pages before Slenderman catches up to you and, uh, does something, resulting in a game over. This is all rather terrifying the first and maybe even the second time you play it, but then the game loses its appeal. The atmosphere is smashed to pieces because you know what Slenderman looks like and how he operates, and, frankly speaking, the search-based gameplay is just incredibly tedious.
It was my sincerest hope that the Arrival would not only provide a graphical upgrade for the original game but would also add new levels and modes of gameplay. Blue Isle Studios did implement some new features, but they’re all very superficial and add almost nothing to the free game that was released last June. As I said in our impressions of the beta, “Slender: The Arrival is a game of diminishing scares.” It’s ultimately a game that doesn’t live up to its potential despite some neat moments and a couple of quality jump scares.
Things start off promising enough as you take off in the direction of your friend Kate’s house in daylight—a clever design decision that will unnerve players returning from The Eight Pages. Darkness soon descends and you find Kate’s home ransacked and filled with graffiti featuring our favorite creepy villain. As you explore the house, you hear a scream from outside and then run into the forest behind the house in search of your pal. It’s here that the game really begins.
The first level is an expanded remake of one featured in The Eight Pages. You search for notes and illustrations as Slenderman hunts you down. Once you find them, congratulations, you’ve beaten the level! Now you can go on and … do the same thing for the next level. And the next one. And the next one.
Okay, you’re not really searching for eight pages in every level, so it’s not technically the same exact thing over and over again. But every section except for the last does have you searching for eight things, whether it’s eight generators, eight windows, whatever. You’re going to be looking around a lot in various impressively rendered and appropriately frightening environments. But the game’s updated visuals don’t come close to saving it from its repetitive gameplay and neither does the hyped addition of Slenderman’s sidekick. The beastie is actually far more aggravating entity than he is a frightening one.
To its credit, the game looks and sounds quite good. Gone are the blocky, low-texture environments from the original. Unfortunately, this is a double edged sword since, well, the new Slenderman model just looks silly, like a big Halloween themed inflatable tube man that’s floating around engulfed in a rainbow colored aura. The original model was minimalist, thin and quite frightening—a specter that combined the creepiest qualities of a scarecrow and a kidnapper. The new camera POV also proves to be annoying on several occasions. Most of the time it’s an effective device that draws you into the world by bringing a found footage feel to the game (ala The Blair Witch Project) but the camera often experiences deliberate technical hiccups as Slenderman’s presence screws around with it, often blurring and distorting your POV. At first, this mechanic functions as it should, bumping the tension to 11, but soon it becomes more of an aggravation than anything else, forcing you to run into trees and walls.
At least the sound design is just as masterful as it was in The Eight Pages. In fact, it’s peerless. You’ll hear boards creak, crashes of thunder, even footsteps in the grass behind you. The majority of successful jump scares are thanks to how tense you get just by listening to the sounds of the game. “What direction are those footsteps coming from?” you’ll wonder, only to walk right into a scare-trap that in hindsight will seem rather obvious. However, the top-notch quality of the sound effects and the music also help shed a light on the numerous failings of the game.
The biggest disappointment of The Arrival is easily the game’s lack of a quality narrative, especially since Blue Isle partnered with the folks behind the popular Youtube series featuring Slenderman, Marble Hornets. What could have been a spine-tingling, engrossing narrative is instead just one big mess that forces you to look around for various notes and clues if you want the whole story. But you shouldn’t bother, really: the pain simply isn’t worth the gain. The only thing the clues accomplish is reinforcing the characters’ spiral into insanity. Even worse, The Arrival wastes a perfectly good set-up and that very rare creature, the female protagonist. We never get to know Lauren, since she’s a silent protagonist, nor are we ever given any reason to care for her or Kate. In this barely told story, they have even less depth than any of the teenage fodder you’ll find in a tepid slasher movie. I suppose this lack of clarity and context was done in the name of creating suspense and mystery, but was merely another source of frustration
Compounding what is already a sizable disappointment is the fact that the game can be completed in less than an hour. Yes, I’m talking about the entire game. There’s even a handy little timer on your camera POV that informs you of just how much playtime you’ve gotten out of this product you’ve spent 10 bucks on. Just to rub it in, I guess.
I criticize The Arrival not because it’s a horrible game—there are far worse titles out there—but because it’s such a disappointing one. The Eight Pages introduced an interesting, playable scenario with palpable terror that begged for a worthy sequel or expansion. The Arrival is not that game. Instead of expanding the original game with engaging new modes, a plethora of unexpected scares and an engrossing story, Blue Isles settled for giving us a handful of levels and a new paint job to the same game we played a year ago. If you were infatuated by the The Eight Pages, then I recommend this version with little hesitation, despite the goofiness of the new Slenderman model. The rest of you might want to sit tight for Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs.
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