Slender: The Quit Button
Ok, I’ll just say this now so we get it out of the way: I have Slender fatigue, not because I don’t like the game, but because I dislike how it’s become the “mainstream horror game concept” just like military shooters have become the mainstream FPS concept.
It doesn’t take much to find many Slender-related games, and pretty much all of them share the same basic mechanic: find an X amount of objects before Slenderman catches you.
And when you find the last object, he catches you anyway so what’s the point of playing anyway (and don’t give me the “well, it’s a horror game, you’re supposed to lose!” crap).
I was gifted a copy of Slender The Arrival, so I could play it as some sort of research since I’m working on my very own horror game (I have, and I still play certain games as research, like Amnesia, Myst, Silent Hill, Dear Esther and Bioshock… note not all of them are horror games, but all of them are story-driven).
So, basically, the idea (besides collecting items) is to give players the impression they are being hunted and all, and I have to say it does that pretty well (although I’m not particularly impressed by jump scares). Sound and all helps a lot as you constantly hear the bad dude walking behind you, and sometimes he pops up right in front of you. This also turns the game into some sort of big chase sequence as he’s constantly hunting you.
I like chase sequences as much as the next guy, and I think they are very cool and can keep you on the edge.
I do feel the tension when playing Slender for the reasons stated above.
Or rather “did,” before the sequence became way too long to keep me interested, and began to think on the design choices I thought were bad design choices (as always, you’re free to disagree when everything I say, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong, just like agreeing with me doesn’t mean I’m right).
So there I was collecting pages, 2 were missing, and the game began to frustrate me up to the point of rage-quitting. I didn’t care about the bad dude anymore, I just wanted to find the last two pages and get it over with.
And running myself into the same “landmark” over and over didn’t help, because I was just running in circles. Now, I know some players have had no problems finding all the pages, but I’m not one of them. The problem is the level is (somewhat) big, and you’re forced to find 8 freaking pages without knowing where you are. Now, call me lazy but I find maps a useful feature. You know, like the maps you had in Silent Hill?
At the end I just started walking, waiting for Slenderman to get me, I just didn’t care anymore.
Then I learned that when you get all 8 pages, Slenderman gets you anyway, but magically having all 8 pages means you don’t “die.” You’re just sent somewhere else (and to tell the truth I don’t think I should even care about the reason behind this, considering I had to start collecting pages “just because”).
I get hunting down items is common in all horror games (like collecting all 4 orb pieces in Amnesia, or all 5 tarot cards in Silent Hill 3). However, while in Slender collecting all those 8 pages for the sake of collecting them, in Silent Hill 3 the tarot cards are used in a puzzle.
Hell, I even added such mechanics in Enola myself. There’s a part where you need to collect 8 pages… I mean where you need to collect 3 gold pieces while the bad guy tries to kill you, but I limited this to a somewhat small space, and you can also get into places where he can’t get you so you can “rest” a little (and even save). Making the dude follow you through the entire level wouldn’t make the game any better (specially considering those 3 pieces are just for one of the many puzzles found in Enola).
I don’t have problems with goal-less tasks in small free games (like those scary hotel games). The thing is Slender The Arrival is not free.
The same thing broke the experience for me, because I didn’t care anymore. Any sort of tension I was feeling was replaced by frustration, specially because it’s a non-stop chase sequence (chase sequences in other games usually last for a few seconds/minutes). Ultimately, the game made me feel stupid for wasting my time running around in circles.
Then I learned the rest of the game consists on turning on a fixed amount of generators to power up ONE lift (if 6 generators are needed to power up a lift, I don’t even want to know how many are needed to power up all lights… was it too hard to come up with an actual puzzle, like looking for gasoline for the generator and a key for the lift? BTW there’s a puzzle in Enola that makes you do just that), closing a fixed amount of windows, and serving a fixed amount of tequila shots so Slenderman gets really drunk (ok, that last one is not actually part of the game). You get the idea, gameplay wise it’s about performing a lot of chores based on the same “collect 8 pages because I say so” idea instead of adding some variation, or better yet, break down the levels in smaller goals to keep players interested. Going back to Enola, there’s a reason why I decided to make a bunch of smaller puzzles instead of one big puzzle where you just find 42 pieces of whatever to get out of the level… and the idea isn’t even new: in Myst the entire ages are broken down in smaller puzzles (solve this to get this clue to solve that, and then use this and that other clue to solve a third puzzle…).
Some people even say “Slender is the most terrifying game of all time, even more terrifying than Amnesia.” I respectfully disagree, for Amnesia is actually a good game with good pacing and all, even if it’s not perfect.
Slender The Arrival is a game I think had a lot of potential, but to me it fails after a few minutes because it gets old very quickly and doesn’t even try to reinvent itself (please note I’m not one of those to get easily frustrated when playing. The last time a game actually frustrated me was when I was playing Anna, because the obscure puzzles made me feel stupid). The “hunting you” mechanic would’ve been a lot better if it wasn’t a non-stop thing (can you count how many monster encounters happen in Amnesia? Do you think a monster chasing you through the entire game would’ve made Amnesia any better?). How about something as simple as firing up Slenderman when you’re near a note to give the impression that he’s “guarding them” and make them harder to get, but not frustrating? On the other hand, how about turning the scavenger hunt into something that actually makes sense (because collecting notes so that Slenderman gets you with your pockets full doesn’t make much sense), or actually adding simple puzzles to the game?
So I decided to just cheat so I could jump to the next level and try to collect all 6 power generators. Sorry, I meant turn on all 6 power generators, which I didn’t because I was trying to see if I could find any more info about what the hell the story was about, but then I was killed because, again, the bad dude is chasing me.
By the way I also spent a lot of time just walking around the level, without collecting pages, because I wanted to check if I could find any story material. I did this because supposedly the Marble Hornets dudes joining the team was supposedly going to bring a very cool story to drive the game. I don’t have the entire story yet, so I hope it will be any good, although it’s a shame to see good writing talent take such an unimportant role in a game where, evidently, running around powering up generators and closing windows is far more important than letting people know what the hell’s actually going on.
To tell the truth I was hoping Slender The Arrival would be something more like a Marble Hornets like video game, mixing a bad dude trying to kill you, mystery solving, and other elements that would make me say “ok this IS really an Amnesia killer!” Unfortunately, it ended up being a game about collecting even more pages (as much as I hate writing bad comments about indie games, I have to say I consider that a lazy design that breaks the cool part of the game).
But the worst of all is having all these gamers thinking that tossing a tall pale dude wearing a tuxedo (or any entity) chasing you through the entire game while you collect pages IS THE WAY to make horror games.
Luckily, not all hope is lost, for cool games like Amnesia AMFP, Routine or Asylum will be released soon-ish. On the other hand, I’m hoping our very own Enola will also bring something good to the table even if its gameplay mechanics are nothing new or groundbreaking (I’ve hinted on this post how it actually borrows mechanics from different games). Enola is all about the story.
Have a nice week. In the meantime, be sure to grab the 3 wallpapers I made available this weekend.