Nowhere is safe in Slender: The Arrival, a somewhat polarizing first-person horror game that’s made the rounds on PC, PS3/PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One and has finally arrived on the Wii U in time for Halloween. As someone who’s avoided the game in its previous incarnations thanks to not being into the whole Slenderman myth (that some take way too seriously), I have to say I was pleasantly surprised that the game is actually more than a little frightening.
Or should I say unpleasantly surprised that I found myself backing out to the HOME screen on my Wii U after a few particularly well-placed random jump scares. At the right time (after midnight) and under the right conditions (big headphones on in a dark room, rainy and miserable outside), I found myself unable to push on during one part where that damn skinny suit-wearing freak kept popping up and making me squeal like a trapped piglet. Squeee! Squeeeee! Yipes. That’s the game doing its job quite well despite some flaws in the ointment.
Going in cold like this not only made this a nice and scary game while it lasted, it made me regain a tiny bit of respect for the overuse of the jump scare as everything from YouTube click bait to modern horror movies and their awfully un-scary TV spots and trailers that show all the best parts (complete with preview audiences screeching as if on cue). For me, certain horror games work best as solo experiences where you’re on your own with no weapons, help or hope to escape unless you push through areas designed to make you too freaked to progress even with something chasing you down. There’s a mystery to solve here and the game does its level best to stop you, but it’s just doing what it was made for. While it can be frustrating to play if you’re just after the clues to your friend’s disappearance, there’s a certain measure of triumph to survive each area… and then the next one begins.
While not a long game by any means (once you get used to dying and retrying, you can complete this in about two or so hours), the experience is very much like a nearly non-stop haunted house simulation. Well, with indoor and outdoor maps, a handful of hideous and pissed off enemies to deal with in addition to the titular creep who’s unstoppable and randomly teleports around to try and make you pee yourself. Drinking lots of fluids is not recommended before playing this game, is all I’m saying. Stuff you need to find in the maps gets randomized as does Slenderman with his twisted allies who pop up at the darndest times. There are some welcome slow and quiet moments in the game where you get a bit of time to breathe before something starts chasing you around. But for the most part the game is fairly relentless thanks to some fantastic sound design and use of visual “noise” effects whenever Slenderman makes an appearance.
Visually, the game is solid in terms of its varied environments, mostly dark and unsettling maps where your sole means of illumination is what seems to be a dollar store flashlight. That poor light source makes the freaky parts freakier because if you move too quickly, you’ll often find yourself in trouble before you know it. Well, Slenderman lets you know he’s around when your screen gets all fuzzed out and he pops up out of the darkness right in your face after you see him behind or on some other side of you. Eep. His other pals chase you around and keep you nervous to a fault. Some of them can kill you while others just make you scared enough to mess up and get confused in the different maps. If you suffer from a poor sense of direction, some areas will have you running into trouble early and often until you suck in that fear and run like hell to where you need to get to.
While initially unnerving, the enemy models don’t quite hold up to close scrutiny. The first few times you get got, you’re probably going to be hiding under whatever you were sitting on. But there does come a point where after the tenth or so fright you just want to get to the next area and stop running into the same cranky characters out to ruin your evening. It doesn’t help that the running animation with its side to side swaying can be a bit nausea-inducing if you don’t lay off the run button. There is a bit of sneaking around to do, but this certainly isn’t a stealth game by any means. You’re more or less a cheap (non)detective trying to find out what happened to your lost friend and there’s a weird killer on the loose who happens to have a few friends he’d love to introduce you to.
Exclusive to the Wii U version is the option to use the Wii Remote as a flashlight (in a manner similar to the underrated and much slower-paced Ju-On: The Grudge from a few years back). It works fine for the most part, but comes off a bit gimmicky and can actually be distracting when you need to concentrate on running like hell away from danger. You can also play the game using the Wii U’s Gamepad screen, but while a good thing, it’s also tricky to navigate the darker portions of maps safely if you need to squint for a second and wonder where that hallway you’ve been chased into leads. This is a game you should play alone, but having a friend or two handy to scream in your ear may add a bit more “fun” or fear to your own experience. Tread carefully on that front as it’s not cool to kick someone out of your place into the night air because they’re freaking YOU out more than the game you’re trying to enjoy.
The best thing about the game is the randomness makes it quite replayable. Maybe not through multiple sessions during a day, as the scare factor drops a bit once you get used to the game pulling at that part of your brain that makes you jump out of your seat. Sunlight is not only the best disinfectant, it also makes Slender: The Arrival a lot less crazy when you’ve got less to be afraid of. Still, for ten bucks it’s a great deal to get the blood going without any actual threat to you in the real world. While the more jaded ones on the internet (who seem to spend more time on message boards than they do playing games) aren’t fazed by stuff like this, it’s good to see an “old-fashioned” type of fear food like this pop up to get an old geezer like me checking his pulse.