First impressions of Slender

An internet urban legend crosses over into games with chilling effectiveness. Don't look behind you.

In a letter to his friend and fellow Weird Tales writer Clark Ashton Smith in 1930, HP Lovecraft wrote that “No weird story can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care and verisimilitude of an actual hoax.” Almost 80 years later, in 2009, this idea formed part of the basis for a photoshop thread on the Something Awful forums in which users were encouraged to turn ordinary photographs into something creepy-looking and pass them off as authentic. Forum member Victor Surge posted two black and white photographs featuring a tall, thin being wearing a suit with elongated limbs and no facial features known only as “The Slender Man“, and from these humble beginning was born a modern horror mythology that has grown to be every bit as paradoxical, vast and enthralling as Lovecraft’s own Cthulhu mythos.

Slender is a short, experimental horror game based on the Slender Man mythos created by Mark J. Hadley in Unity and available as freeware. You play as a nameless (presumably female) protagonist exploring a large area of dark, spooky woodland armed only with a flashlight with limited battery life. Your only instructions are to find 8 pages of crudely-scrawled notes referring to the eponymous Slender Man, scattered randomly at key locations like on the back an abandoned truck or pinned to a strange stone obelisk. In one playthrough I found at least two inside a derelict maze-like building so disorienting I felt like I’d accidentally stumbled into Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves“.

You’re not alone in the woods of course. Stalking you at every turn is the eponymous Slender Man himself, always watching from a distance that diminishes as you discover more notes or when he feels like it. All he ever does is stare at you, but you swiftly learn that staring back at him is not a good idea so your only recourse is to run. From then on you’re always glimpsing him at the periphery of your vision whether he’s actually there or not, staring out from between some trees or over the hood of a truck. You’re relatively safe so long as you don’t look at him dead-on but he has the terrifying habit of disappearing and reappearing entirely at random. You do a full circuit around an abandoned truck only to find him waiting for you back where you started. You run inside a dilapidated building, turn a corner and there he is again, closer this time. Always getting closer. Your innocent treasure hunt for scraps of paper takes on a greater urgency. Can you find them all before he gets you? Probably not.

Neversleepneversleepneversleepneversleepneversleepneversleep

My own investigation into Slender Man ended amongst two rows of rusted iron tanks near the derelict building I mentioned earlier. I still had two or three more notes to find but my flashlight was almost dead, meaning I practically had to press my face up to the tanks to see anything. As I sidestepped around one of the tanks I heard the tell-tale static noise of Slender Man’s presence and braced myself to make a run for it. I took two deep breaths and turned left ready to bolt into the woods only to find myself staring straight into his white, featureless face less than an arm’s length away from me. My vision was immediately covered in a snowstorm of static and that, as they say, was that. I was left with an accelerated heart beat and a delirious shit-eating grin on my face, giddy with sweet scared delight

Slender is a beautiful minimalist horror experience that turns its technical limitations to its advantage. If it were an action game set in broad daylight the clusters of identical trees would stick out a mile and make everything look samey and dull. Here they ensure you’re constantly getting lost in a manner so perfectly conducive to horror. Because you can only see what’s illuminated by a small patch of dwindling torch light your brain fills in the darkness around it with imagined terrors, moreso as the light dies. Even the frankly primitive Slender Man model stalking you is made more scary because it is so crude. Its lack of detail, rigid inhuman stiffness and the way the game discourages you from staring at it for too long imbue it with an unsettling alien “otherness”.

For something knocked-up just to learn Unity with and only intended to be posted to a few forums the creator hangs out on, Slender elicited more dread in me over 10-15 minutes of play than plenty of triple-A action-horror blockbusters have managed over the course of several hours. Let me reiterate that for you. Mark J. Hadley, in his first real attempt at Unity and without even trying too hard, has created something scarier than games made solely for that purpose by entire teams of people for squidillions of dollarbucks. Like Amnesia and SCP Containment Breach, Slender reinforces the undeniable cosmic truth that the best horror games right now are being made out on the fringes.

Tracking down a copy of Slender can prove as elusive as the Slender Man himself however since Mark J Hadley’s website has been hammered into the metaphorical dirt. Don’t think that means you’re going to get away without playing it though because some kind-hearted (read  “sadistic”) souls have put up mirrors for both the PC and Mac versions. If you can’t get it from those links for whatever reason then shuffle over to this thread on reddit for more mirrors as and when they pop up. Basically you’ve got not excuse to not terrify yourself today so grab it, play it, and then go watch all of Marble Hornets.

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Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.