Published on August 13th, 2012 | by jsdp0
Interactive Horror in its Purest Form: Slender
Using Something Awful’s forum creation Slender Man as a creative jump-off point, Parsec Productions brings us a contemporary myth turned viral video game whose freely available download has grasped the Internet’s attention with simple its yet excruciatingly frightening gameplay. If you are looking for a game that will have your nerves absolutely shot, then Slender will be your newest frienemy.
Note: This article is based on gameplay of version 0.9.6.
Slender Man’s origin is credited to Victor Surge, a user of Something Awful forums. The background is of an urban legend essence much akin to Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. The date of birth is June 8ᵗʰ, 2009 when Surge described Slender Man as an ominous being never appearing the same to any one person. He has a lanky appearance with elongated slender limbs adorned by a suit. By virtue of looking in his direction one generally winds up missing and later found murdered in a grisly fashion.
The premise for interactive horror could not be better, and Mark J. Hadley—also known as AgentParsec on his YouTube account—decided to create one seriously vicious ride of a first-person horror game. The video game market has been lately lacking excellent horror and/or survival horror journeys, but Hadley has created an experience whose deceptive minimalism brings refreshing scares to the seemingly jaded and desensitized.
The setup is as basic as possible with no story provided whatsoever: You find yourself in the middle of forest after dark; the sky is aglow in twilight with stars discernable in the orange-tinged sky. The only directive onscreen: “Collect all 8 pages.” The sounds of the night, crickets chirping, and your footsteps are the only audible sounds. Nothing is around you save for trees and grass, and as you move about—whether following paths or hoofing it through trees—you notice landmarks such as a handful of large rocks or an abandoned truck adjacent to a trailer. As you approach you may find a piece of paper tacked on, and you are able to pick them up. Once you pick up the first page and hear the deep resonating bass drums off in this distance you realize exactly what is at stake.
That orange skyline starts suddenly looking more hellish, huh?
The visceral horror experienced playing Slender lies in the simplistic approach and gameplay. Upon first playing you will immediately notice the lack of a user interface. Your only method of knowing your location is keeping track of the various landmarks encountered. While you possess a flashlight, the battery is limited and inevitably runs out if used for too long. Your character walks incredibly slowly but is capable of sprinting. This sprinting action is only for a limited duration as well; you will begin to breathe heavily (the sound of which indicates your character as a female), you quickly slow down, and you realize your stamina is limited and must be recharged. You can zoom in and out to try and peer through the fog which gradually thickens making the open outdoors claustrophobic, as if the darkness and trees were not enough. The worst realization of all: You have no method with which to defend yourself. You are ostentatiously defenseless.
To add to the fright is the erratic behavior of Slender Man and the randomized nature of the game. Each page can be placed at a different landmark and be a different page altogether located on a different part of each landmark. Slender Man himself is unscripted. He can appear at any given time and location without warning. Static appears on your screen and can be heard when he is nearby or you catch a glimpse of him, and seeing him produces a sharp and quick pang of music to great effect. You will often find yourself frantically oscillating in deciding whether to peek around or continue trudging ahead. He can appear, and when you turn away and look back he could be closer—or he could have already disappeared waiting in a new location. His pace of pursuit can be casual or he may dog you rapidly.
Hadley also incorporated a Lovecraftian element into the gameplay. Taking a cue from Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Hadley made Slender Man’s very appearance his weapon: You are unable to look directly at Slender Man for long as static will fill your screen and overtake you, thus ending the session. So while looking around and making sure of Slender Man’s last location may be advantageous, gazing upon him for too long will result in failure. You have to constantly be moving and be swift. If he catches up to you, he will forcibly turn you around and you will succumb. You are constantly and consistently on edge.
The graphics are not of the most superb quality. Trees and the ground are of low resolution textures and the identical grass patches swaying in the wind is not impressive. But the quality is a true blessing in that any PC or Mac user can play this game no matter their current hardware. Slender is highly accessible and is engaging for its sake of its gameplay. Visual quality quickly becomes irrelevant.
Sound is part of the Slender package that will tighten your shoulders and seize your spine. A good speaker setup or surround-sound headphones will elevate the creep factor to outrageous levels. Only the regular noises of the night greet you at first, but collecting page one starts a continuous beating of a single bass drum in the distance amplifying that sensation of being chased. Collecting more pages introduces more layers of aural anxiety reminding you of your predicament and to gradually increase your tension to obscene nerve-racking levels. “Eerie” fails to even begin to describe the soundscaping.
Only so much can be said in describing and celebrating Slender. The game is one that demands personal experience rather than secondhand accounts or watching the multitude of YouTube videos of people playing and making commentary. Slender is an excellent game to scare you or your friends and is a refreshing jaunt for horror veterans where films or games of the genre no longer scratch that scare itch, that desire to feel fear as a form of entertainment. Any time of the day is a great time to play, but at night with the lights off, your door closed, and a pair of headphones turned up will spook you silly. Slender is free and available for download with minimal hardware requirements—so virtually anyone can jump in. Just remember: Keep moving, and sprint sparingly, but most importantly remember to—wait, wait, WAIT, NO. NO, NO, NO, N—