'Slender: The Arrival' [REVIEW]

By Luke Caulfield , Updated Mar 30, 2013 07:54 AM EDT

I'm not having a good time. I'm alone, in the woods, and it's pitch black out. There's an incessant pounding coming from somewhere far off. As I pace through the forest, the sound of my feet crunching through the dead leaves are suddenly echoed by another pair. Something louder. Heavier. Taller...but every time I turn around, there's nothing there. Nothing but the pitch black.

I find my first page at the base of a rickety, rusted water tower. A comforting light shines down from the top, giving me a better view of my surroundings. I don't want to leave its warm glow. But I've taken the page already, and soon enough, he'll be after me. The hunt is on.

This is "Slender: The Arrival," a refurbished, fleshed out follow-up to "Slender: The Eight Pages."

You begin the game with the most basic of instructions: make your way to your friend Katy's house. The game begins cheerily enough, giving absolutely no indication of the horror that's about to follow. A felled tree is blocking your car from continuing, so you have to make the rest of your way on foot. But no worries, it's a crisp Fall day; the trees are riddled with bright orange leaves, the sign of a cheery autumn. Rolling hills can be seen in the background.

As you make your way down the path, things begin to take an eerie turn. The sun is gone within minutes, and you swear that you hear footprints behind your own.

You eventually make your way to Katy's, whose house is in a state of upheaval. But no matter, a SOLD sign just outside waylays your fears. After all, what house isn't a bit messy when a move is in progress? It's only when you open the front door you realize something sinister is going on. Bizarre drawings are scrawled on the walls, phone lines are disconnected, doors are locked for seemingly no reason. A car is in the garage, but Katy is nowhere to be found. Bits of paper with seemingly no connection to each other are your only clues.

The first time I saw him, I'll admit, it was scary. The second time, out of sheer curiosity, I made my way toward him. Graphically, he's far improved from his last appearance. He's no longer slumped over, his limbs are more in proportion, and his tie almost glows a bright red. But it's not his visual aesthetic that makes seeing him so terrifying. It's the noise that plays whenever he's near. The camera begins to get disjointed, your character will begin breathing heavy, and random explosions of static and white noise get louder, and more rapid the closer he is. Every time I've seen him, that noise has made my skin crawl. Every...single...time.

He's gotten the better of me several times now, and the environment is on his side. Every time I begin again, things have switched around. It's frustrating, but to developer Blue Isle Studios' credit, it makes every single playthrough a different experience.

As many times as I've played, I can't come up with a strategy to elude him. There's no safety indoors, and the more pages you collect, the more aggressive he becomes. You wouldn't think it to look at him, steady as a mannequin and an expression just as vacant, but he doesn't stand still. You might get lucky and catch a peek of him off in the distance, only to turn around and have him right on you. He'll sneak up on you. He'll follow you. On my best try, I've only managed to grab 3 pages before he was upon me, and even after you grab all eight, there are more chapters.

Playing "The Arrival" is a terrifying experience. "Resident Evil," and "Dead Space" have moments that will make you jump, sure. "The Arrival" has those moments too. Every time I saw him I got the willies. But "The Arrival" fills you with a sense of dread. Every time you play, you're wracked with tension, walking through each area slowly, hoping you can spot him before he does. It works for the same reason games like "Fatal Frame" or "Amnesia" work. You're not some marine commando death machine loaded with weapons, while a partner spouts background story into your ear. You're a regular person, armed with nothing more but a flashlight and a camera, hoping to stave off something you can't even begin to understand. In short, you're vulnerable, and that's what's truly horrific.

If you want a game that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, "Slender" is your scrawny horse. 

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