Horror has been represented in video games in many different ways, from the action-based gore fest that is Resident Evil to the psychological nerve assault that is Project Zero. Despite the differences in the approach to the genre, however, most horror video games base the fear experience around the same thing: the fact that you are fighting the object of terror. The same cannot be said of free-to-play game Slender.
The game is based around the Slender Man mythology which was brought into being by the Something Awful forums, where a cryptic post showed old photographs which, in the background of each, featured a tall and strangely proportioned man with no features in a dark suit. It inevitably didn’t take too long for the internet to be filled with further images, stories and videos all depicting the Slender Man, all with a creepy tone to them.
The game itself is a first-person affair, and you begin by awakening in the woods. It is dark and you are armed only with a torch and a slight sprint ability. You have one goal: to collect 8 separate pages which are hidden on various landmarks throughout the area. Sounds simple? Sure it does. Sure it would be, too, were it not for the fact that you are being pursued by the Slender Man throughout your search.
The visuals aren’t amazing, but this is a fan made game. A free one, at that. The sound, however, is excellent. The sounds of the forest are quickly subverted by a terrible, layered pounding that rhythmically continues, making you think of large and heavy footsteps closing in on you. There are also occasional audio glitches which are the staple of any horror; a loud, high pitched sound akin to a malfunctioning radio. These all add together to create an excellent accompaniment to what is being shown on screen.
The sense of chase is where the game really succeeds and you will inevitably find yourself sprinting through the woods wildly, sure that the lanky antagonist (lanktagonist?) is right behind you. The fact is that you will rarely see Slender Man as, Amnesia style, looking at him causes damage to you and so you have to turn very quick and run, meaning that he is behind you. For the most part, whenever you do encounter him it will be as an ominous figure in the background who will appear closer each time you see him and he never moves whilst in your vision. The genius of this is that, as he is always static, the trees in the forest very quickly start to look like Slender Man, panicking you and making you lose track of where you are or where you were going.
The pages that you have to collect are, themselves, creepy as all hell. They all bear a childlike stick drawing of Slender Man and have some ominous messages. My two personal favourites are ‘Follows’ and ‘Can’t Run’. As there are only 8 of the pages, the game isn’t a long one, especially seeing as you probably won’t manage to get all 8. This is instead a quick and fast scare which relies on the threat of very imminent death rather than a gradual building of atmosphere.
I personally see this as a great piece of inspiration for game developers; you don’t need to arm your protagonist to the teeth and throw wave after wave of monsters at them to get scares. Give the player a sense of helplessness and of inevitability. Give them the unknown and you’ll scare the trousers off them. Slender certainly did that to me.