Slender is a free indie horror game based on the mythos of the slender man, an abnormally tall, faceless man in a dark suit and tie. Occasionally spotted in the background of photographs, people reportedly go missing and disappear in his presence. He is an entity of pure fear, silently stalking people until they go mad. And then he takes them.
The premise of the game is pretty simple: you're alone in a pitch black wood with nothing but a flashlight at your disposal, tasked with collecting eight pages scattered about the woods. Who you are and why you're searching for these eight pages is never explained; it's just an arbitrary goal to give you something to do whilst being terrorized by the silent madness-inducing presence of the slender man.
My review continues after the jump.
What Slender gets right about horror is the steady build-up of tension; when you start the game there are no other sounds but your footsteps, the trees rustling in the wind, crickets chirping, and owls hooting. Once you collect the first page, a distorted, echoing bass drum starts pounding in the background like a heartbeat; after a few more pages, some kind of metallic humming sound starts resonating over top. The soundtrack progressively builds, layering more things on top and changing tones altogether the closer you to get to collecting all eight, and it's a large part of what makes the game effective.
The other thing Slender gets right is the unpredictability of when or where the slender man will appear. He doesn't even appear until you collect the first page, but once that bass drum starts reverberating in the background, you know he's out there. The developer understands that too much exposure to a creepy monster ruins its effect, and so the slender man appears rather infrequently at first, giving you ample time to psych yourself up for the big scare, anxiously waiting and trying to anticipate when he'll show up. After he makes an appearance, he disappears for a short while to let things settle down, to let the tension mount again so that his next appearance will be just as effective. Just as the soundtrack builds with each collected page, so does the frequency and proximity of the slender man's appearances.
Slender is ultimately a pretty simple game with very limited scare mechanics. The first playthrough is downright spooky with some effective startle moments, but once you figure out the slender man's tricks, the illusion kind of falls apart. Whenever the slender man "spawns" within the woods, it's supposed to be somewhere off-screen so that when you turn to look somewhere else, he's already there staring at you -- and it creeps you out because it's meant to appear that he was there the entire time. But so long as you just keep looking forward and don't make overly dramatic turns (or specifically look around searching for him) he won't really show up.
As good as the atmosphere is, what with the effective lighting and soundtrack, the slender man becomes much less foreboding and creepy with each subsequent run. Eventually you realize that he's no real threat to you as long as you don't look at him, and not looking at him is pretty easy once you understand his spawn behavior. He basically just does the same scare over and over and over again, so after your first run through the game he's really not going to scare you unless he suddenly appears alarmingly close to you, and then it's just a quick startle because of the loud screeching sound effect that shatters the tension.
One minor thing that bothers me is the way the screen fills with static the longer you look at the slender man. The idea is that looking at the slender man for too long will drive you insane, and the static is the audio-visual cue, but it sometimes gives away the slender man's position before you even realize he's there. That is, there were a lot of times when I was looking around searching for more pages, and the screen started to fill up with static. I never even saw the slender man, but I knew to look away from that spot just because of the extraneous cues. I feel like that kind of took away from the potential spook-factor in a lot of instances.
Other than that, the premise is really too flimsy for the game to have much staying power. Arbitrarily collecting pages isn't a particularly exciting goal for the game, especially when those pages barely reveal anything about the nature of the slender man. The game is also inevitably apt to bog down to a slow, meandering pace until you start to memorize the layout of the woods to remember where all of the pages are. Just wandering around a pitch black wood looking for unique environmental setpieces can be pretty boring, even if you are being stalked by such a nefarious creature as the slender man.
So Slender gets some crucial things right and misses the mark in a few other areas. It's pretty effective for what it is, especially considering how short and limited the experience actually is, but the horror itself is very fleeting and ultimately isn't as satisfying as some other games out there.