What is Slender?
Slender is a free minimalist horror video game from Mark J. Hadley’s Parsec Productions. And I mean minimalist. There are almost no gameplay mechanics — walking, running, looking around, using a flashlight, and picking up papers. That’s literally everything you can do.
And it works really, really well.
You take control of an unidentified character who must wander around a freakyyyyy forest and collect eight pages, each of which has to do with the Slender Man. Who or what is the Slender Man? That’s never fully explained. (Sorry, did I say fully?) He gained popularity after a couple of pictures showed up on a “Create Paranormal Images” thread in the Something Awful forums, but all you need to know is that he’s extremely tall (7-to-10 ft.), has no discernible facial features, dresses in a snappy black suit, and sports a number of bizarre appendages that pop up from his back when he’s unhappy. Basically, he’s a dapper boogeyman with spiderlegs.
You begin the game on the edge of a forest armed with nothing but a flashlight. There’s almost nothing in the way of story. You only know that you must collect 8 pages, each to do with the Slender Man. You can’t attack or defend. You move using WASD controls, and you have the option run by holding shift — although not very quickly, not for a significant amount of time, and the recuperation time is hefty. The controls, as simple as the concept, are responsive and work well.
You can move anywhere you want through the forest, and there are some sketchily defined “paths” that are the closest the game comes to giving you any direction. You’ll eventually discover a number of creepy landmarks — a broken down truck, an abandoned building, a cave, etc… — around which the precious pages have been hidden.
After you grab the first page, Slender Man is omnipresent. Every time you collect a page the music and atmosphere intensifies. The longer it takes you to find the pages, the closer he gets. If you spin around too quickly, Slender Man’s sudden appearance is accompanied by a terrifying musical sting. (I’m ashamed to say that same scare made me jump a dozen or so times.) Whenever he’s near, the screen gradually fills with static and speakers with white noise. When he catches you… well, suffice to say, “Game over, man. Game over.”
So what are the downsides? Well, as I’ve said, the concept and execution are driven by a minimalist philosophy, so don’t expect much depth or replay value (aside from a few cute extra modes once the game is beat). It’s not a long experience, maybe an hour or two, depending on how often Slender Man catches you, your first playthrough. But you need to keep in mind it’s a free game designed primarily by one man. Despite these “shortcomings,” Slender packs a heck of an emotional punch.
Slender is a very good, very scary experience. It’s the latest entry in a small number of intense and minimal indie horror games. Dear Esther (which I sadly haven’t yet had the chance to play) and Amnesia: The Dark Descent are others. Imagine Amnesia stripped down even further, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect from Slender. Needless to say, as a fright addict, I wildly approve of this gaming mini-movement and can’t wait to see what else it produces. In other words: somebody give Parsec some real money!