I’m not the most avid player of horror games it has to be said. You can put this down partly to a lack of interest in horror/survival horror as a genre, partly to a lack of interest in specific games and franchises that occupy said genres, namely resident evil, dead space etc…and also because I am a bit of a pussy. That said, recently I’d been hearing a lot about a small indie game (seem to have been playing a lot of them lately, see my Bastion review) making it’s rounds on the ‘funny reactions to scary stuff’ type videos on Youtube called Slender.
The premise behind the game actually reminds me a lot of the so-called ‘high concept’ horror movies like Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street where the entire movie is based around a very simple concept, in the case of the latter of those two examples; the kids in the neighbourhood can’t fall asleep because that’s when Freddy gets you. In a similar vein, the premise of Slender is that you’re placed in an enclosed section of a forest and must find 8 notes scribbled on paper. You only have a flashlight with a horrificly small radius to guide you and you mustn’t look behind you lest you see the Slender man. Each time you collect a piece of note paper, the Slender man gains pace on you and wants to catch you more. Now if that sounds like the premise for a cheesy slasher film of the kind I described above, then I assure you that is down to the inadequacy of my writing. Slender is the most terrifying game I’ve ever played and I would rank it as probably the most scared I’ve ever been as a result of a piece of media entertainment. The Slender man himself is a tall thin humanoid type creature in a suit. He has no discernible face and abnormally long limbs. He’s terrifying to look at not because of how he looks (it’s not a particularly grotesque appearance, save for the unnerving way he stands, slightly hunched over and resembling a lifeless marionette) but because of the circumstances in which the player encounters him. You only really see him when you look behind you or round the corner of a building (which are few and far between) and he’s just there, staring at you blankly. In fact I was curious enough on the second time I played it (I don’t think there will be a third) to see what would happen if I just stared back at him. As you only ever catch a glimpse of him (once you see him you instinctively turn the other way and run) I was unsure if he actually walked towards you at all. I stood my ground upon seeing him and sure enough he didn’t move. I took a step closer, waited, at which point he suddenly vanished and reappeared about a metre closer to me at which point I shit my pants and ran as fast as I could, which by the way is nail-bitingly slow!
The whole game has a somewhat amateurish feel, not a bad thing at all, but a product of not being professionally developed. However, where in many games this would count as a point against it, here it only serves to somehow increase the dread that I felt whilst playing.
The closest game I could compare Slender to is Amnesia: The Dark Descent. On the surface, both are similar games; they are both independent, small games which emphasise true horror rather than action. Both feature a protagonist unable to physically defend himself, that is to say unarmed, both like to fuck with the player. But in the details, the two games are very different and I had very different experiences playing both. Amnesia feels like a much more polished game with its haunting score, voice overs, and the outstandingly creative scripted events like the bugs crawling out of the walls, the viewpoint tilting and warping, reflecting the protagonists’ gradual descent into madness. But Amnesia is a much bigger game in scope than Slender with a fully fleshed out story and characters that you learn about throughout your play. It’s much more dressed than Slender, the frights that you encounter are because of what happens to you, it’s a result of the eerie sounds, the warping walls, the wind blowing through a corridor, the monster chasing you down a staircase forcing you to hide in a cupboard. Slender is so much more pure, it features none of these set-pieces, the fear is almost entirely your own creation. What scares you isn’t things jumping out, nothing ever does..it’s the idea of the whole game, it’s the knowledge that this thing is following you, silently, step by step, in this dark, silent wood and if you look for him he’ll find you.
What I will end on is that in both Slender and Amnesia, horror fans are finally getting some genuinely frightening experiences again as an antidote to the increasingly action oriented traditional survival horror games like Resident Evil, Dead Space etc.. What’s more they’re getting them for very little money, in fact in Slender’s case; for nothing at all. Scary thought no?