Slender: The Arrival Review: Much to Fear, Including Repetition
The Arrival is split into two kinds of levels: exploration in the daylight, and fleeing in the darkness. After exploring Kate’s house, Lauren sets out into the woods after hearing a scream, and that triggers the “Eight Pages” level of the game that encompassed the original Slender release and was available as The Arrival’s beta pre-launch.
If you’ve played Slender: The Eight Pages, this will be immediately familiar, and it’s a model The Arrival follows through its entire run time. You move through a park area searching for eight scraps of paper, each of which has some Slenderman imagery on it. There are 10 locations arranged in a circle around the park where pages could be, so you need to check each of them, and the more pages you collect, the more angry Slenderman gets. It amounts to a game of keep-away — looking at the creature for too long triggers a fail state, and he’ll pop up closer and closer to you as you collect more pages or linger in the same spot.
This is where it can get a bit irritating. Granted, The Arrival manages to be terrifying during these moments: rare is a game that keeps you feeling menaced so thoroughly as The Arrival, and there’s little you can do to save yourself except sprint away from your pursuer and hope for a little luck. Just like The Eight Pages, The Arrival expertly mixes sound design and growing music with elements like static over the screen and intrusive darkness to make it a very oppressive, scary experience. All that is intact in this version.
The trouble is that now The Arrival is a game that has a goal meant to be met, and meeting it gets a bit frustrating. It took me several runs to get through even The Eight Pages level, and after a while, getting overrun by the Slenderman so often detracts from the title’s overall scares.
What’s more, every level is pretty much another sprint to the finish of gathering X number of something. A level that takes place in an abandoned mining facility has players switching on generators; later, you’ll need to shut doors and windows; after that, there’s a hunt for a key and a mad dash up a mountain.
That The Arrival’s mechanics are limited to “pick up a thing” and “try not to die” is a bit of a disappointment. Yes, pursuit by the Slenderman is a frightening experience, and The Arrival is great for keeping you on edge, but the repetition of that experience weakens it overall. What’s more, just running around a building or a field or a mountainside looking for a specific number of objects isn’t especially interesting the third time through. Sure, you’re being chased, but you’re also getting away. Repeatedly. And getting caught. Repeatedly.
The Arrival’s mechanics also don’t really lend themselves to making you feel like you’re just barely escaping, or like your pursuer is about to close on you at any moment. Slenderman himself cheats this by popping up in front of you, but you can always just change direction to get away. You’ll spend probably the whole game holding down “Shift” to sprint, but it feels like this presents diminishing returns, too. In the original version of The Eight Pages, the player had to conserve sprinting because the more you ran, the more tired you became. It feels like that’s at work here as well, but The Arrival’s requirement that you keep moving, and quickly, to stay ahead of your extremely dogged pursuer is at odds with the controls with which the game presents you.