Slender, the cult horror game based on a popular internet meme, took the online world by storm last year. YouTube is filled with reaction videos of people playing it in the dark and shrieking whenever the blank-faced Slenderman appears. But as scary as it was, it wasn't much of a game.
That's where The Arrival comes in. It has nicer visuals, more levels to wet yourself in, a smarter Slenderman, and even a story to follow. It's still a simple game at its core, but it feels like much more of a complete package than a short-lived novelty.
Like the best horror games, it's about survival. But there's no popping caps at old Slendy: it's just you, the darkness, and a flashlight. You move through a variety of gloomy, claustrophobic environments while being stalked by a tall, faceless, thin-limbed man in a suit. He'd look like a dick in a bright room, but in the dark he's nightmarish: all spindly and horrible.
He can move now. You'll see him ahead and run away, only for him to appear suddenly behind you. It's incredibly unnerving, and playing in the dark with headphones is genuinely chilling. The subtle use of music and sound effects is excellently done. He can even lock doors behind you, the skinny prick.
Slenderman isn't the only thing you have to worry about, either. After the forest level, a remake of the original game's single area, you find yourself being pursued by another, equally terrifying, being. If that isn't bad enough, a hardcore mode gives you a finite amount of flashlight battery, more aggressive enemies, but an alternate ending if you can stomach it all the way through.
You have to perform such tasks as collecting a certain number of documents or activating generators, but as you get closer to completing your objective, Slenderman's pursuit gets more aggressive. If he catches you, or you stare at him for too long, it's game over. It's a challenging game, not helped by how tense it is, but the glacial pace can make repeating levels frustrating.
The lighting is beautiful, and the forests and corridors thick with atmosphere. A grainy film effect adds to the horror film feel, and whenever the Slenderman is near, the HUD – which mimics a video camera – distorts and flickers. Daylight scenes break up the gloom and show off the surprisingly beautiful world design. Don't get used to them, though. It's a relentlessly dark, bleak game.
There isn't much to The Arrival. It's really just wandering around in the dark, and occasionally fleeing in terror. A story, told through discarded documents and other environmental clues, is nicely constructed, but you probably won't replay it. It's all about your first playthrough, and it's just about cheap enough to justify that scare. Suspend your disbelief and flick off the lights and you'll find a horror game that's light on game, but tall on tension.