Review: The gaming is thin in free survival horror Slender: The Eight Pages
At a Glance
Slenderman's hipster-Frankenstein genesis as a haunted-Polaroid Photoshop contest winner has spawned an unexpectedly popular homebrew horror cottage industry. Slenderman: The Eight Pages explores the self-styled urban legend as a short-form first-person survival game, and the result is a mildly diverting proof-of-concept piece that meets its meager goals, but fails to match the creativity and impact found elsewhere in the Slenderman mythos.
For the uninitiated: Slenderman is a distorted, faceless, man in black who stalks people and makes them disappear. For a supernatural entity, Slender is pretty sloppy with his abductions, leaving behind a handy mountain of photo and video evidence for endless posts on places like YouTube.
Slenderman stories brush aside traditional narrative forms and are told via found footage, snapshots, message board threads, audio recordings and similar interlocking sources using a technique called Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG). Imagine a crowd-sourced Blair Witch, served up as digital performance art, and you're on the right track.
It's odd then, to find this risk-taking attitude and creative spirit completely absent in Slender: The Eight Pages. Gameplay is pared down to 3D-engine-bound first-person survival basics, with WASD motion keys and controls for a flashlight and camera zoom. You've got two speeds for motion, slow and slower, the first accompanied by impaired lighting in a failed gambit to add tension.
There are no weapons, no hit points, no inventory, no crouching to hide or any other forms of entertainment to interrupt the purity of the experience, which boils down to collecting eight pages nailed to things scattered throughout the dark woods before Slenderman catches up with you. This is presumably a horrible event, but since we don't get to see anything past a fuzzy static fadeout, who knows? Audio cues and visual distortions alert you to his presence, allowing you a window to escape, but as you collect more pages this window narrows and he becomes harder to avoid.
This game's origin as a conceptual demo speaks to the limitations of its gameplay, but viewed as a simple, creepy game of hide-and-seek, there's a charm here that can hold interest for a short while, or entertain younger gamers for whom scares are fun but gunfire and gore are inappropriate. Visuals are adequate to the task if a bit repetitive, and scale well enough to run on midrange laptops with reasonable fidelity and speed.
There's fun to be had here, but the project seems to miss the point of the Slenderman phenomenon on a fundamental level. Rather than push into new or more varied forms of interactive storytelling, Slender: The Eight Pages shows us a very conservative take on what could have been cutting-edge horror fiction. Since it's free, it's worth checking out for the things it gets right, and Slender fans will be interested for historic purposes, as this title has spawned a sequel and at least one notable competing project.
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