Slender’s Woods: Short, Simple and Seriously Scary
Slender: The Eight Pages touched something in amateur game developers across the Internet, it seems. A relatively simple game created in the Unity engine a single developer, Slender is a scary game — and a masterful one when it comes to instilling fear, despite its simplistic graphics and simplistic gameplay.
Among the games inspired by Mark J. Hadley’s Slender title is Slender’s Woods, another title created more or less by one person with a little help from others on composing and modeling. Developer Zykov Eddy notes that Slender’s Woods is inspired by the original, but takes a different approach, and indeed, Eddy’s game manages to hit a lot of the same notes as Hadley’s while presenting a new and different experience.
Where Slender’s Woods distances itself from the original is in the portrayal of (something of) a story and characters. The original Slender implies a story only vaguely: Players fetch eight pages from around a strange wooded area, and those pages imply that someone other person who came before, informed on the threat of the malevolent creature living in the woods that threatens the player, left those pages behind to be found.
Slender’s Woods goes one better than that, creating something of a protagonist through inner monologue text, and implying another character through found documents in much the same way. But both characters are more fleshed out, to a degree, and the progression of Slender’s Woods is much more linear and systematic. You don’t just wander around until you die in Slender’s Woods, which is definitely a step forward for the formula.
The premise of Slender’s Woods has players taking on the role of a man who has moved out to a secluded cabin in a wooded area. One night, he hears strange sounds outside and heads out to investigate, and quickly finds some paranormal stuff happening — suddenly a note appears on the porch, the door isn’t just locked but barred by an iron grate, and the man is afflicted by painful headaches and momentary, staticky blindness.
There’s something in the woods, and it’s pursuing you (spoiler: it’s the Slenderman, and you can learn more about him here).
And so the player is forced to head out into the forest in search of a way to safety. The map is fairly simple — a big circle with short distances between locations — and players basically can basically follow paths to the west to get to where they’re going. The first stop is the construction site identified in the note on the porch, where players find a new bit of information and another key. The second note directs them to a set of nearby underground tunnels, and now we find ourselves retracing the footsteps of a character called Cody, who apparently went through this same nightmare before us.
So Slender’s Woods has players “solving puzzles,” although these invariably mean heading to different locations and finding keys. Each key lets you enter a new area, none of which are especially detailed or large, but which each have their own distinctions and creepiness. The underground tunnels are filled with pipes that vent steam at intervals and strange, distant sounds; the mansion weird paintings and scary creaking sounds emanating from nearby rooms; the saw mill gives the illusion of being a safe interior location, but really is mostly open.
Where the game excels isn’t with its minimal puzzles, which are easily solved, but with the way it builds tension. It doesn’t take long until you find yourself actively evading the Slenderman as you go sprinting through the game. The puzzles are simple but just involved enough to put obstacles in your way, and this makes things harrowing when you know the enemy is nearby, actively hunting you.
Things ramp up over time pretty beautifully, with Slenderman becoming more and more aggressive and present. Like the original game, you get an indication of the enemy’s location based on static in your vision, and staring at him will result in losing altogether, which keeps you fleeing pretty much constantly. And Slender’s Woods mixes in some other interesting elements: The game suggests that what’s happening is paranormal in nature, but through a few great moments with slick presentations, you start to wonder if the protagonist isn’t hallucinating a lot of the events.
Slender’s Woods is by no means perfect, suffering from a few issues of translation in its dialog, for one thing. And it’s really simple; under other circumstances, it would probably be too simple to be especially interesting. But it does excel in slick use of sound design and in hitting a few important set piece moments that ramp up the threat of the Slenderman and put players into tight spots. The whole game is about running away, but there are some great moments in which the design makes you feel as if you’re only barely escaping, even though, objectively, it’s probably not true.
For an effort by a single designer with a little (or a lot of) help, Slender’s Woods manages to drive the scares and provides just enough framework and context to be something of a complete experience. It’s free, and it’s impressive, and you should check it out.