Sawbuck Gamer

Slender

Don’t Look Now

Slender evokes the primal terror of the woods at night.

By Todd VanDerWerff • August 23, 2012

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.

It was inevitable that the Slender Man—the creepy, stretched-too-thin stalker from some unearthly dimension created by SomethingAwful user Victor Surge—would become the antagonist of his own game. The suited stranger has been the subject of blogs, short stories, and web video series, many of them terrific, and the central unknowability of him makes the character the perfect villain. What wasn’t as certain was that a game based on him would be as primally terrifying and good as Slender is.

Slender does but one, tiny thing, but the game does it enormously well: It puts you into the woods in the middle of the night, then aims to terrify you with what might lie behind any given tree, like the protagonist of a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story might cower from demons. The goal is to collect eight pages, stuck to various landmarks (including a long, empty tunnel and some abandoned bathrooms) inside a fenced-off, wooded area that seems to be an old, abandoned park. With every page grabbed, the difficulty ramps up, the Slender Man lurking somewhere in the dark, just waiting for you to happen upon him so that he might drain your sanity. 

Everything in Slender is dedicated to placing you in the middle of the night, just waiting for something to lunge out and grab you. (The sound design is particularly impressive in this regard.) Endlessly playable, Slender is at its best when its evoking the feeling that comes when you’re lying alone in the dark, and a door somewhere creaks open, and it’s probably just the cat…but can you know?

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350 Responses to “Don’t Look Now”

  1. blue vodka lemonade says:

    I feel like horror as a genre impresses me less every time I play a new game. Maybe diminishing returns are just the price of experiences that are so keyed-in to these kinds of primal emotions, and I find myself slowly becoming desensitized to the very idea of being afraid of a game.

    Also, Slender takes forever to download for me for some reason. My computer might be racist against memes.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       Well, it probably has more to do with the fact that jump-scares are easy and suspense is hard.  This goes doubly for video games which can’t always control the pacing of the experience. 

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

         I don’t mean that horror games are getting worse, I’m just getting less and less affected by them. Plenty of suspenseful games fall flat for me now, and even jump-scares lose their jumpiness when you’ve memorized the rhythms of a horror game.

  2. doyourealize says:

    This game is similar to Amnesia in two ways. The sanity gauge is one. You can’t look at him or you’ll lose your mind. However, Slendy will come get you even if you aren’t looking and in the dark, unlike the baddies in Amnesia. Second is I can’t fucking finish either game. I just get too anxious and turn it off. The first time I played Slender, I jumped up from my seat and threw my headphones off.

    Maybe I’m suggestible, but that makes these games more “enjoyable” for me.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      I still haven’t finished Silent Hill 2. I made it like 20 minutes into the demo for Amnesia. Scary games scare the fuck out of me. Ravenholm took me like three days to get past because holy shit, I didn’t think this game was so fucking frightening.

      If I played this I’d just be pissed that I was being terrified by a meme. That won’t stop me from reading spooky internet stories though..

      • Enkidum says:

        I played Halflife II for the first time last year, and have never played a survival horror game. Ravenholm was such an unexpected transition from the prior levels, and yeah, like you said, so frigging frightening. The sound design is particularly wonderful, there’s always something unpleasant going on that you can’t quite make out, and the garbled screams of the head-crabbed people literally haunted my dreams. I think my pulse rate went up about 50 bpm. Wooooo….

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          The fast zombies. Hearing them howl and seeing them run across the rooftops toward you. 

      • caspiancomic says:

         Oh Jesus God I just finished Ravenholm last night and that shit was stressing me out. Those fast headcrab monsters were horrifying. They reminded me a lot of the Alien series’ xenomorphs, creatures I’m terrified of because I watched the movies when I was too young. Jesus I was gritting my teeth the entire time.

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           That’s probably my favorite chapter of HL2. Spooky/ooky/you can kill everything with sawblades.

        • George_Liquor says:

           Yeah, I was 8 or 9 when I saw Aliens–way too young. It scared the Scooby Doo Underoos off me, but I loved it anyway.

          By an astonishing coincidence, the scariest video game I’ve ever played was the first Aliens Vs. Predator for PC. (Not the Jaguar game; the one that came out a few years later.) That game managed to create and sustain a palpable feeling of dread in me from the moment that first little blip shows up on my motion tracker.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          You’re welcome, @caspiancomic:disqus. Nightmares presented by Effigy. ^_^

        • caspiancomic says:

           You’ve given me a curse, @Effigy_Power:disqus!! I should have never wished for Half-Life 2 on that monkey paw!

        • Enkidum says:

          I logged on to Steam last night and saw you were playing HL II, it’s pleasing knowing that someone else is having the same pleasurable experience I did so recently.

          One of the nicest things about it, I think, is how gradually it creeps up on you. I mean, there’s always been some fairly awful things going on in the game, and you’ve seen headcrabs before and those missiles as well, but just to see what it’s like when an entire neighbourhood gets wiped out like that – ugh, in an awesome way. Damn I like that game.

        • I wish you could skip that level, I wanted to replay HL2 but an odd combination of suspense and zombie fatigue put me off both times I got to it. That and the thought of the 2nd turret siege much later on.

    • caspiancomic says:

       I wasn’t going to try this out, but I’ve seen glowing reviews for it everywhere. I’ve made no secret about the fact that I’m too afraid to finish Amnesia, so who knows how long I’ll hold out against ol’ Slendy.

  3. Fluka says:

    I am of two minds on this:

    A) I find the whole Slenderman meme thing to be extremely unfrightening.  The figure itself looks like an X Files reject.  Knowing that something was created by the Internet makes it particularly not conducive to inducing Insanity-level fear.

    B) That said, there is no way in hell that I am playing this because I am a complete and total whuss and oh god I can’t even watch the trailer without wanting to hide under the sheets with my cats.

    • trilobiter says:

       I feel the same way.  Show me Slenderman in the light of day, and I could not care less.  Show me Slenderman in the middle of the night in pitch black woods, ready to leap out at any moment, and no, fuck that shit, I’m out of here TURN THE LIGHTS BACK ON!!!

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        I hadn’t heard of this creature before, so I looked it up online.  Meh…faceless things don’t really scare me much.  Creepy grinning/howling faces (i.e. Dead Silence or The Grudge) on the other hand….GAH!

        • Fixda Fernback says:

          Or, the Silents, from Doctor Who? Those things freak me right the fuck out, and I don’t normally get bothered by things of that nature. 

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          @digthatfunk:disqus  – Oh, THOSE are creepy enough…alien faces and suits that look like they’re made out of skin >>> plain suit on a tall guy with a blank face.

          See also The Gentlemen from Buffy.  *shudder*

        • Fixda Fernback says:

          Yeah, it’s that weird face thing they have going on and the skin-looking-suit you mention that really screw with me haha. Plus, their power includes making you forget you saw them? UM, FUCK THAT, THANKS. They always reminded me of The Gentlemen a bit (i.e. dapper and deadly)

  4. PugsMalone says:

    Darn, I was hoping that this would be a game centered around King Slender from the NES Pro Wrestling.

    • He wanted to sign off on a deal like that, but he broke his back a few years ago.  The irony. 

      Now he makes a living as a motivational speaker at high schools, with a presentation called “A Winner Is Us…When We Stay Off Drugs”.

  5. This looks just about unbearable for someone of my weak heart condition for survival horror stuff.  Shit, I couldn’t even make it through the elementary school in the original Silent Hill (or, as I like to think of it, Jacob’s Ladder: The Game) before shutting it off and shivering my way out of the room.  Nevertheless, I’m drawn to stuff like this (I loved the original Half Life and am a recent convert to Alan Wake) because of the skill(s) involved with creating an atmosphere that will put you on edge like that.

    What I’m saying is, is there a game that’s exactly like this, only you’re being followed by fluffy little kittens?

  6. PPPfive says:

    After you bump into the static, very poorly rendered Slenderman for the first time it becomes apparent he can’t move and poses no threat, leaving you free to crawl around the woods at a snails pace looking for ‘pages’ (notebook paper with a generic HELP ME scribbled on it), and occasionally mistaking the poor anti-aliasing for something moving in between the trees before remembering that isn’t the case because Slendy can’t move, so never mind, keep trudging around. Then it ends. Really poor ‘game’ with almost no play-value, let alone replay value.

    • blue vodka lemonade says:

       My big issue with it is that it relies very heavily on the loud noise Slenderman makes when you look at him for scares. The first time I played, I died without even knowing he was near me. I just watched the screen get staticky and then the game ended. The second time I played, I did jump when it made the loud noise, but never felt any real suspense or build-up to that point.

      With better visuals and just a bit more going on–maybe some woodland creatures so that there are some moving things to see out of the corner of your eye, or a simple puzzle or something–I think it would be much more effective and the scares would feel less cheap.

  7. Andrew Jara says:

    Okay but did you beat it?

  8. I thought this was alright. Definitely some spooks, but kind of lazy from an artistic point of view. Rip off a meme and… in my opinion, a much better version of this type of game was made over 2 years ago… “which”

    http://gamejolt.com/freeware/games/adventure/which/1523/

    I don’t know if the makers of slender played that or not, but considering they were ok with “borrowing” that meme, I think there is a pretty good chance :-P

    just sayin. “slender” is meme baiting whatever, “which” is the real deal

    • Adam says:

       Actually, I’d say that ‘Hide’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WrGb8br4ug is a more obvious predecessor in the Indie ‘Being Chased’ genre. Hide might have far less advanced graphics and focus less on the ‘horror’ angle but actually seems to have better programing for its pursuing enemies.

      They increase in number and get access to helicopters as you find more of the [“Meaningful”] Messages stuck to things in a less arbritrary manner than the end-game teleporting of Slenderman. Also, they run to the last place you were seen with their flashlights and then follow your footprints in the snow.

      All in all, this one felt far too familiar as soon as I started which took me out of the experience and made me start wondering why I should care knowing the Slenderman is going to get me in the end… and don’t I kinda deserve it going alone into an strangely inescapable park in the middle of the night?