Slender: The Arrival Review

This review contains minor spoilers.

When I see an approaching bandwagon I do my best to step back and let it roll past. This is especially true when it comes to massive online trends. With homegrown pictures and videos going viral in just a matter of hours, it seems impossible to stay on top of it all these days – and who has the energy?

However, now and again a bandwagon will cruise by with so much magnetism I feel compelled to hop on board. This was the case with Slender Man, the featureless enigma born on the Something Awful forums back in 2009. Over the past couple of years I have been inexplicably sucked into the ‘Slenderverse’, changing from a curious passer-by into a self-confessed Slendy fan. I was thrilled when I first discovered Mark Hadley’s hit indie game Slender: The Eight Pages; even more so when it was given a sophisticated makeover earlier this year.

Following on from its beta release in February, the highly anticipated Slender: The Arrival is now available in full for Mac and PC. Developed by Blue Isle Studios and Parsec Productions, and written by Joseph DeLage, Troy Wagner and Tim Sutton of the influential MarbleHornets series, The Arrival is one online phenomenon that deserves the attention it’s been getting.

Crucial to followers of the title is what’s new. Right off the bat we can see that a ‘stage selection’ option has been added to the menu, showing us four apparent levels (made available as you progress through the story) as well as a prologue, which acts as a warm-up to the pace and style of gameplay. And the scares  – those too.

After a disturbing introductory sequence, we are thrown straight into a first-person perspective through the lens of a camcorder. In stark contrast to The Eight Pages, we begin in an autumnal wonderland: the sky is blue, the forest is a fiery orange and underfoot lies a carpet of leaves. I was stunned by the visuals on my first play – and that was with the shadow quality switched off! (Because even on the lowest resolution setting  – and there are many to choose from  – my laptop couldn’t handle the game’s prettiness.) Switch shadow quality on and you are treated to a beautiful dappled light effect as the sun filters through the  forest canopy.

The game boasts truly breathtaking scenery.

It doesn’t take long for things to get creepy, though. Following the path away from our abandoned vehicle, we pass a line of telegraph poles. The middle pole is slanted at an odd angle, and there is something distinctly unnerving about its misalignment. Is it a sign? A precursor to impending danger?

We soon reach the outskirts of a large, empty property (a glance at the objective in the pause menu tells us this must be our missing friend Kate’s house). By this point, the sky has grown completely dark and we are back in familiar Slender territory.

Approaching the house’s front door, we are introduced to a door-opening mechanism similar to Amnesia’s drag and pull/push function. Unfortunately, it’s clunky and often unsuccessful, which causes a lot of grief – particularly later on when it becomes a key part of one incredibly tense level.

And quite frankly, nobody wants a door-jamming fiasco with Slender Man hot on their heels.

The house’s interior is reminiscent of early MarbleHornets entries: it’s dimly lit, furniture has been tipped over and there are strange drawings scribbled erratically across the walls. As you explore you’ll come across your trusty flashlight, as well as several letters written to and from Kate (which go into your ‘scrapbook’). These provide us with some backstory and indicate our friend’s mental state before she vanished (clue: it doesn’t look good). The situation escalates when we unlock Kate’s bedroom and discover just what sort of mess we’ve fallen into.

Shortly after, we are propelled into the first stage. It should look familiar – this is the beta level, and effectively the sole premise of the original game. Many of you will be old hands at collecting those eight scraps of paper by now, but with randomised page locations and spawning points, and Slender Man’s unpredictable appearances, it will still keep you on your toes. When you do complete the level, the hunt for Kate’s whereabouts truly begins.

Damned if you, damned if you don’t – the flashlight both attracts and deters danger. Use it wisely.

Only, this hunt doesn’t last for long. The Arrival is by no means lengthy – if you play smartly you are looking at a couple of hours. The game could certainly be padded out a great deal more, and it finishes as abruptly as a severed limb, which is a real shame. However, the ride is both frightening and absorbing while it lasts and if you’re as much of a sucker for detail as I am, then the small touches will keep pulling you back. (Remember that magnetism I was talking about?)

Surprisingly, the game also features ‘achievements’ which add some extra replay value. This supports the idea that The Arrival could see a console release in the near future. In addition, collecting all the scrapbook items will reveal the full extent of the twisty, dark plot, and rumour has it that once a player completes the game on the ‘hardcore’ difficulty setting, a secret ending is unlocked.

On the face (or not, as the case may be) of things, The Arrival is definitely worth checking out. Slendy fans will instantaneously love it, but this game’s gorgeous graphics, compelling story and immersive play will appeal to a broader audience as well. Despite its brevity and sometimes infuriating controls, this is still a nerve-shredding experience with all the perfectly executed jump scares that made its predecessor so popular.

Let me tell you, this particular bandwagon has grown pretty darn comfy.

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