Slender: The Arrival is continuing its Bataan Death March of migration to all platforms, and the PS4 version is the most recent incarnation.
It’s not necessary to go into detail about the whole of Slender mythology, but suffice it to say there have been games other than these. Slender: The Arrival was released on previous gen platforms last fall, and variants of the core game have appeared all over the internet for years. My review of the PS3 version appeared on this very site in October.
If you somehow missed the Slender craze of the last few years, then woo boy do you have some catching up to do. There’s a whole internet out there for you to peruse, full of reaction GIFs and other arcane knowledge even I don’t know exists.
Slender: The Arrival for the PS4 is a pretty but largely shallow port of an already existing game. It suffers from being a mere clone of its predecessors, and at two hours, it doesn’t provide anything more than a simple, unsophisticated distraction.
The game doesn’t add much to the lore or gameplay, and the changes that do occur are mostly graphical in nature. Unless you somehow missed all of the previous releases, there’s no reason to greet the arrival of this guest.
In Slender: The Arrival, you play as Lauren, who, after finding her friend Kate’s home abandoned, save for some cryptic notes on the wall, goes on a creepy and unsettling search to find her.
Wielding only a video camera and a flashlight, you brave a variety of environments to track Kate down. Meanwhile, in the process, you encounter and must subsequently avoid a shadowy, well-dressed villain in the form of Slender Man. His presence is denoted by a static-y vibration in the camera, and getting too close means being taken down by the blank figure.
And that’s about it. The game takes you through the aforementioned environments — house, abandoned mining facility, mountainous area — but the core concept is the same: explore an area and find a specific number of items to pass on to the next area. The more items you collect, the more aggressive Slender Man becomes in pursuing you.
It’s almost mini-episodic in nature, an adventure game at its most basic level, but the fun is derived not from the exploration but from the sudden and shocking appearance of the game’s antagonist. I won’t even go so far as to call Slender: The Arrival a horror game, in the traditional sense. It’s mostly just a “scare exploration game,” full of atmosphere and mood and lots of scares but very little horror. It’s sort of like the most extreme version of peekaboo imaginable.
The question that presents itself is, if the game is so similar, what does the PS4 version bring that’s different? Well, it must be stated that the game looks FANTASTIC. For example, the textures are way more detailed than in previous ports, and an Abrams-esque lens flare effect also looks pretty cool in The Eight Pages section. Slender Man, too, looks the best of any released version of the game so far. It’s weird staring out over a wide, mountainous vista, a la The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and thinking, “Jesus, this is a Slender game.”
Ultimately, however, the technical improvements are only frustrating in the end, because they reveal what the game truly lacks. Instead of increasing graphical fidelity, why not spend more time improving the story or refining the game’s limited mechanics? Graphical nuance means nothing if the game is inherently shallow, which is exactly the case with The Arrival.
Not every game should have gunplay and giant explosions, but giving the player a little more to do while walking around — or at least more of a developed story — would make for a more sophisticated and interesting game.
As someone who played the PS3 version, I was looking for something, any sort of hook, that would bring me back to this franchise, but I only came away feeling an underwhelming sense of one-note-ness about the game.
The list of things that could have been improved, even marginally, is huge. We really get very little of the relationship between Lauren and Kate. Lauren, as a protagonist, does nothing besides provide a lens for the audience. Any playable character is just a delivery mechanism for jump scares. The mechanics are underdeveloped. “Press ‘x’ to do ‘y’ thing” is the most common interaction, and that hasn’t changed.
What are the stakes, beyond “if you don’t turn on six generators, then Slender Man will turn you into static?” It works the first time, when you’re new to this particular concept, but it wears off quickly.
With a game so short and so lacking in other elements that normally make a game special, Slender: The Arrival very obviously needs something but doesn’t even attempt to include it, whatever it is. Strip away the graphics and it becomes a walking simulator, doubly so if you’ve played it before.
To give this version some credit, I will say Blue Isle has perfected what Slender does well, as a concept. The frenetic, shaky-cam that accompanies an appearance of Slender Man is both terrifying and nerve-wracking; there just needs to be more of it or a different version of it to be successful. Most gamers are not coming to a Slender game for its features or mechanics. People are coming to it for a certain kind of scare, and this version delivers as well as any other iteration.
This particular form of the Slender story is done, dead and desiccated. There is nothing left to do with it, so let’s hope that we don’t see another Slender: The Arrival anytime soon. If any other reskinned variant appears on any platform, it has to include something fresh (or at last something new) for it to be even the slightest bit interesting. Perhaps now that every market has been satisfied with The Arrival, we can see a different Slender Man story.
The Final Word:If you’ve played Slender: The Arrival in any of its previous variations, you won’t find much more here, unless you’re a completist or hardcore fan. However, if you’ve never ventured into a Slender game, now’s the perfect opportunity.