Slender seriously freaked me out. Many games try to scare players, but the end result is usually ham-fisted and full of gore. Slender is subtle. It will creep up on you before you realize, and stare you down as you come to understand what really happened. You should probably play it before reading this, as the best way to play it is with no expectations. It can be found for free at the official site, and is a creation of Parsec Productions.
Now that that’s out of the way, some background information is needed. To fully understand Slender, you need to know what the Slender Man is. Head over to the Marble Hornets youtube page for one of the most fleshed out interpretations of the urban legend. It started in the depths of the Something Awful forums, as much of the internet sub-culture does, but the general idea is this.
He is a creature that will follow you. He picks a target, seemingly at random, and will watch them from a distance, waiting to be noticed. Once this happens, once you get the slightest inkling that he may exist, and god forbid you notice him following you, it begins. The more you think about him, the more he appears, and the bolder he gets. Depending on which interpretation you look into, there are different ways to notice him. One of the more common methods is through recording equipment, as his presence interferes with electronics, but more importantly, his only weakness is being seen.
Once he is seen, he is limited to our physical world. This is when he is limited to his abnormal physical body, but the instant you look away, he can be next to you in an instant. This is the genius of the Slender Man. He becomes more powerful and more obsessed with a person the more they obsess over him, and the only way to fight him is to look at him, thus filling your mind with no thought but the Slender Man. It’s a catch 22 that usually ends the Slender Man winning.
And it’s this genius that was made into the core mechanic of Slender. You can’t tell when you first load up the game, but he is already in the environment, stalking you. Your only goal is to collect eight manuscript pages, but with each one you collect, the tension rises. After a few pages are found, you will see him, standing off in the distance, possibly amongst the trees, watching you. As long as the two of you are locked in that strained staring match, he’s harmless, but now you know he’s close. Now you know the instant you look away to continue your quest, he is chasing you, always just at your heels. Even if you muster the courage to keep running, you can hear a growing distortion from behind, constantly reminding you he’s there.
The limited field of view from the flashlight plays perfectly into this mechanic, especially when the action is building. Once I knew I was being chased, I would often try and see what kind of lead I still had. This only made things worse. I was trying to do too many things at one time, and ended up creating my own scene from a cheesy horror flick; only ever catching small glimpses of my pursuer, then running headlong into a tree, slowing my progress. By the time I had five pages on my first play-through, I completely abandoned the idea of finding more and chose to focus only on running. I didn’t win that time, and I still haven’t. I turned one last time to see the blank face staring at me, my speakers screaming with white noise, as my screen faded. He had won.
The genius is how it combines the jump scare with a slowly growing feeling of unease. When you first notice the Slender Man, it will catch you off guard, but then the dread grows. And the more it grows, the closer he is. Slender really isn’t more than just a tech demo of an effective game mechanic, but it evokes more fear than many triple a titles backed by huge publishers. Play it. It scared the hell out of me.