Title: Slenderman: The Arrival
Developer: Blue Isle Studios
Release Date: June 20, 2019
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Blue Isle Studios
Genre: Survival Horror
Back in 2013, the Slenderman craze raised the bar for the horror genre in ways no one really expected. The simplistic mechanics of avoiding and running was enough to line up with people’s basic instinct of fear, which ended up surpassing the need for cutting edge graphics or realistic animations. However, like riding a roller coaster for the third time, you learn the ins and outs of the game which dulls the experience. Unless this is your first time playing Slender: The Arrival for the Switch, prepare for a playthrough that reflects the game’s age.
The opening of Slender: The Arrival has players see the world through Lauren’s eyes as she visits from her friend Kate to help move out of her childhood home. That is until Lauren realizes something disturbing has happened as she finds the house in shambles. Strangely, drawings line the walls of a tall figure. While investigating, a scream echos from inside the forest. Without much of an idea about what has happened or who let out the scream, Lauren sets forth into the dark forest to learn more.
The forest serves as the game’s playground. Players venture through the darkness collecting clues that are key items in order to avoid Slenderman and advance to the next chapter. This is done by treading carefully as the teleporting Slenderman slowly tries to catch you off guard, getting close enough to capture you and scream loudly in your face, as veteran Slenderman players know.
Even after all these years, the visual and audio effects are still effective at making me panic as I try to sprint away. Aggressive white noises and violently distorting video worsen as Slenderman gets closer, making the feeling of almost being caught almost worse than actually being caught. This works so well since the sound design makes it as though Slenderman itself is breathing on you and the distorting video makes it difficult to run away.
While the tried and true mechanics still brings chills to players, playing this port for the third time really brings down the fear factor after knowing the rules and effects of the game too well. Since this is more of a personal critique I wouldn’t disparage the game for what it accomplishes. I will say that those who wish to replay the game via the Switch version should consider that the game may not be as graceful with its presentation this time around.
With that said, Slender: The Arrival does have strong features. The design of chapter two where pages randomly spawn places makes a return and is still is the best part of the game. The more players collect the pages the more Slenderman becomes hostile. This makes gameplay a frantic search for the last page plenty nerve-racking.
Yet after this chapter in the story, Lauren finds herself in a mine searching for generators to power the elevators and make her escape to the surface. She is once again haunted by Slenderman’s disturbing figure as well as attacked by a sprinting ghoul named The Chaser. Sound plays a bigger role in this section as The Chaser can be heard around the corner of echoing hallways, allowing the player a chance to blind the monster with their flashlight and make a break for the exit.
With the previous chapter focused on careful navigation, chapter three adds the extra element of fighting off a more direct creature. This dynamic works well as an evolution to the original game. It almost makes me wish that the game ends with this chapter because after heavy involvement with avoiding two menacing creatures, Slenderman: The Arrival starts to go downhill with its presentation and gameplay.
The following chapters start to become more about walking between sequences for the story to play out. The attempt is perfectly fine for a title with so much lore behind it but part of Slenderman’s attractiveness was its mysterious background and initial gameplay designs. Instead, I find myself walking long distances to pick up a gas canister just to walk back, giving me the impression of needlessly padding the chapter with creepy ambiance. Given Slenderman’s lack of clear origin and abilities, I would have liked to see the journey be filled with new ways of interacting with it.
Sadly, there is also a noticeable amount of technical issues that bog down the experience of the game. Screen ripples can be seen when rotating the camera as well as shifting geometry as the player is going over hills are a constant sight. Additionally, stiff animations from ghouls do enough to convey what is happening in certain scenes but is definitely an area that could have benefited from extra development time. This sentiment can also be said about Slenderman as well, who has a more prominent role in this game. I would have liked to see a little more of how the being moved, especially if such movement was unlike that of a human.
Thankfully, what carried me to the ending is Slender: The Arrival’s use of sounds and dialog. Inhuman noises, unsteady breathing, and wrenching croaks still kept me on my toes despite previous playthroughs that made me feel like I had an edge. Plus the use of decent voice acting in voicemails or old tapes made the game more grounded in reality than the original.
I find Slenderman to be a great time capsule for gaming’s history. When we look back on that phenomenon, we can see the impact a video game can have on the real world. It’s for that reason, plus the fact that it’s still frightening, that I can see why Blue Isle Studios wanted to port it to the Switch. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend it to those who have played this horror adventure in the past. With new horror games in the works for the Switch, Slender: The Arrival just doesn’t make sense outside of first timers and horror game collectors. That’s not to say the game is not good, but I’m afraid that it is just a product of its time.
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