Sunday, 12 August 2012

A review of Slender:

Are horror games getting more or less horrific?

With the rise of a plethora of big-name horror based games, and game-series; released for the PS2, original X-box, and even the Dreamcast; it looked like horror, and survival horror in particular, was a genre that was here to stay by the 32/64Bit era.

Then something happen.

I'm not entirely sure what, why, or when but the (planning and resource based) Survival-Horror game suddenly seemed to die out.

By the time Resident Evil 4 came out it seemed to popularise the notion of far more action based 'horror' games, and the RE series never returned to it's roots after this, apparently, despite recent proclamations to the contrary. Not that I'm blaming RE4 for this demise, but in the current climate most commercial horror games are taking the RE4 action based route, and not necessary basing their new games around the purer 'horror' aspects that a lot of the older games did.  Some of the independents, on the other hand, seem determined to get right to the beating heart of what makes a horror game. And Slender is one of those games gaining a reputation in the scare stakes...

Many Indie publishers seem to be taking a different route, one that taps much more directly into our fear response. In some cases these programs practically strip away the 'game' leaving us with an almost pure interactive 'horror' experience. Some programs based on the SPC Foundation (Special Containment Procedure) series off 'Files,' or short stories, are a good examples of this.
I've looked at a few variations of the game  programs based on the SPC 87 File, titled 'The Stairwell' and have been suitably impressed at how little program it takes to produce a real feeling of trepidation. This included the origonal  SPC 87, SPC 87-B, and the newer SPC 'Containment Breach.' The latest 'Containment Breach' project seem to be planning on making more of a game that the earlier set-peices, so it remains to be seen if this is less immediately scary. Although 'Amnesia: The dark decent' does a good job of making a modern spychologicaly scary game. So it can do done.

Anyway, enough background... On with the Slender review:

Apparently the 'Slender Man' mythology was born of an attempt to create a new urban myth by the nice people over at the 'Something Awful' website.
The Slender Man is a tall skinny figure in a black suit with a white shirt and black tie. Oh and he also has that old horror stalwart, no face.
His hobbies include abducting children, sending out audio/video interferance, outstretching his arms and/or legs; Stretch Armstrong style, I kid you not; and sprouting tenticles from his back. Oh, and he can also hypnotise you if you look directly at him.
So when I started to read good things about the Slender game I got interested.

The game itself seems to be a simple 'find the objects' affair, where you have to search various sites within one sandbox location for eight notes hidden around the play area.
You are hampered in this endeavour by 'The Slender Man' who seems intent on doing, whatever it is he does, to you. On the up side he's quite easy to run away from. When you 'look' at him for too long or are too close your screen is completely covered by, static like, interference and you hear a white-noise crackle, a very vague image of the Slender Man's head is then shown and - You Are Dead, game over.
For me the 'Slender Man' character graphics didn't seem to be quite up to par with the rest of the game, and I think this character is a pretty integral part of the play.

Unfortunately I don’t think the game quite lives up to the hype, at least for me.
First off, you will need a fairly high specked PC to run this at its best. It can run with a low frame-rate even on a medium sized system and I'm not entirely sure why.
In practice there is a lot if dull and repetitive scenery, accompanied with likewise dull and repetitive sound. Because of this walking around quickly becomes annoying. The intentional darkness of the game, which is illuminated only by torchlight, added to the annoyance by hindering exploration rather than heightening the players sense of anxiety and claustrophobia, which I assume was supposed intention.

I resorted to pointing the view in a certain direction, then putting a weight over the 'forwards' key in order to explore the main area. Using this method I did find a few locations that were a break from the now terribly boring trees. Unfortunately these areas, like the building structures and the fuel-drums; or whatever they were, I couldn't see them properly because it was to dark; were also just as monotonous as the trees.
I also ended up turning the sound down, because the footstep effect really began to get annoying, and this is a pity because games like this heavily rely on sound to build up that all important atmosphere.
Much of the buildings seemed a bit strange, as in purposeless, and the sudden base drum thumping sound effects etc. obviously intended to build up atmosphere, were very quickly recognised for what they were - background effects designed to build up tension. Not that there's inherantly anything wrong with that.
This was done well in SPC 87, but here? Well... 'Obvious technique is obvious..."
I'm not so sure the 'screen distortion/interference stuff' adds anything apart from nausea ether.
Suffice to say I never found any of the eight notes on any of my play-throughs...
Apparently there is also a multi-player version of the game possibility under development, that could be interesting.

Yes, I know I probably didn't play this correctly, but this was because the game's overall mechanics 'prevented' me from getting involved in it, hence 'playing incorrectly.' This is all a pity, because I usually like the way indie developers are going in general, and really did want to like this game.
Perhaps it is just me. I know many people like this. Maybe this is a good example of 'horror' for the FPS generation... But personally I can't see it. For pure First Person eeriness I say 'Dear Esther' paints a much better atmospheric picture than this, and the ghosts in DE seem to be sad reflections of peoples lives, not scary at all.
I'm not saying Slender is a terrible game, as a free mod it's Ok. Maybe I just went in with too high an expectation after reading some glowing comments.
As I said this is all just my subjective opinion though, and for the download price of Free there's no reason not to take a look and form your own opinion.
I be interested to hear what you think.

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