When indie developer Mark J. Hadley's Slender: The Eight Pages was released in the summer of last year, it quickly amassed a surprisingly huge following. In a world where series such as Resident Evil and Dead Space are increasing their focus on action-oriented gameplay, many were happy to play a game that wanted to scare them rather than satisfy their bloodlust.
But The Eight Pages was more of a concept than a fully-realised game and Hadley, alongside Blue Isle Studios and Parsec Productions, is looking to show us what he can do with with a bigger budget and increased manpower in its sequel, Slender: The Arrival.
The Arrival begins with you, seeing through the video camera of protagonist Lauren, waking up beside an abandoned vehicle in the middle of the woods. From there on out you're tasked with unravelling the mystery of your friend Kate's disappearance, who was haunted by visions of the Slender Man and has subsequently gone missing. The narrative has clearly borrowed from the long-running web series Marble Hornets, where most of the Slender Man's lore is derived from, and there are references to it throughout. This is a nice touch, and those familiar with Marble Hornets will be particularly pleased come the third chapter.
While The Arrival may be very short (it can be completed in under an hour), much like its predecessor it leaves a lasting impression. Embarrassingly, I found myself Alt+Tabbing out of the action a handful of times after one too many encounters with the game's faceless antagonist who, thanks to The Arrival's heavily improved graphics, no longer looks like an awkward cardboard cut-out, but every bit the terrifying, besuited menace that has led to him becoming the most popular urban legend since that bloke with a hook for a hand.
But while The Arrival's graphics have received an overhaul, its gameplay remains the same. You'll collect pages, you'll turn on generators, and every now and again you'll receive a moment's reprieve via a quick stroll through the scenic forest in the daylight, but mostly you're just running for your life whilst picking things up/pushing switches. While this does nothing to detract from how scary the experience is, it does make The Arrival feel like more of a graphically enhanced map pack than a fully-fledged sequel, which isn't helped by the game's ending being no less abrupt than that of its predecessor. While I wasn't anticipating any form of "big reveal" at the end of The Arrival, I was anticipating something a little more interesting - instead, it's a rushed and unsatisfying conclusion to what was an intriguing plot.
However, Slender: The Arrival delivers where it matters - the scares. For those who want their survival-horror without copious amounts of ammunition and kickboxing, there are few games that deliver as expertly in this department. You'll struggle to open doors as you hear the ominous sound of footsteps looming ever closer, you'll begin to panic as you find yourself trapped in a narrow corridor and you'll likely quit to your desktop when your flashlight runs out of battery, submitting yourself to the will of Slender's lanky tentacle arms. While I hope that future iterations in the series will introduce some new gameplay elements, for the time being I'm still enamoured with the core concept of Slender, and I'm therefore more than satisfied with what Hadley & co. have delivered. A must-play for fans of the survival-horror genre.
Paul Tamburro is the UK Editor of Crave Online. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTamburro.
We purchased one copy of Slender: The Arrival for PC. Before starting our review, we played through the game until completion.