I remember the first time I played Slender: The Eight Pages on PC. I had been given one-man studio Parsec Productions' freeware title as a talking point for a guest slot on a podcast, and so hastily downloaded and installed it the night before like the consummate professional I am.
It just so happened that I was home alone that night. I knew nothing of the origins of the fabled Slender Man prior to sitting down and donning my headphones. Hoo boy, was that a mistake.
The Slender Man is an urban legend for our time, a monster birthed and nourished solely by the internet. He first materialised on the Something Awful forums as part of a Photoshop contest, where the form of a long-limbed, faceless figure would be superimposed into period photos of children.
From there, his legend grew as the internet hivemind added to the Slender Man mythos.
In a poetic modern twist on horror tropes, it was established that he was drawn to those who sought him out, so googling him would conjure him forth, much like standing in front of a bathroom mirror and reciting Bloody Mary three times. Playing games about him certainly doesn't help either.
A tall tale
In The Eight Pages, looking directly at Slender increases the chances of being caught by him, as the more times you see him the closer he's likely to appear.
And like the creepiest monsters, a la Dr Who's Weeping Angels, you'll never actually see him move; blink (or simply just turn around) and he'll appear just that little bit nearer than he was before. Shudder.
The catch is, the more agitated you become, the more you want to turn around and look for him. In Slender, turning back is a very bad idea. The trick is to keep moving forward. You might actually be safer turning the torch, your one lifeline, off – but who'd be brave enough to do that?
When he finally (and inevitably) catches up to you and you actually see the Slender Man close up, you realise he's essentially just a potato in a grown man's suit and tie.
But by then its far, far too late; the music, lack of weapons, the overpowering darkness of the surrounding forest and the beautifully simplistic sound design have all done their job. Fear has kicked in and common sense has well and truly left the building, as I found on that night of playing alone with only my traitorous laptop for company.
After glimpsing Slender only twice, I yelped "NOPE" to nobody in particular, slammed the laptop shut and turned on all the lights in the house.
Just in case, you understand. I've faced all subsequent attempts with a little more bravery, but to this day Slender is one of the purest, most affecting horror games I've ever experienced.
Slender: The Arrival, a fleshed-out HD remake of that original Eight Pages experience, arrived on PCs last year. The game is set to be ported to XBLA sometime in the very near future, so now not even your Xbox 360 is free from the Slender Man's icy touch.
Slender's transition to the Xbox 360 is being handled by Midnight City. The indie-focused offshoot of the Majesco Entertainment Company is also responsible for bringing us an XBLA release of The Fullbright Company's critical darling, Gone Home, later this year.
Hide and seek
The Arrival will be even more polished than its PC counterpart, thanks to various tweaks and the addition of two rather haunting flashback missions designed to expand on the Slender Man lore, which will unlock after you've completed the main game.
The first flashback puts you in the shoes of Charles Matheson Jr, a lost little boy trying to avoid the Slender Man's clutches while his parents attempt to find him. The other mission, meanwhile, features a character in search of the same boy.
In the main game, you still play as an unarmed woman searching a forest and the surrounding area for her lost friend. The same very simple premise and basic look and/or run mechanics form the centrepiece of a more expanded-upon experience.
Notes and frantic scribblings and sketches are all you have in the way of plot devices. Activating the odd power generators to turn on certain lights is about as taxing as the action really gets. But it's only when you start to realise that you are decidedly not alone that the game really begins to bury under your skin.
A grainy camcorder interface integrates audio and visual white noise to signify when the monster is near and as he hounds you he's able to lock doors and impede your escape.
All the while the masterfully understated music, the secret weapon to both Slender games, is mercilessly maintaining an inescapable sense of unease. If only all horror gaming could dare to be as minimalist as this.
You can keep your Evil Withins, your Silent Hills and your Alien: Isolations (although, I remain cautiously optimistic about that last one). Slender: The Arrival may already be one of the best horror titles on the Xbox 360 this year. No looking back now.
Aoife Wilson works for Official Xbox Magazine and insists that her blonde hair marks her out as House Targaryen. She's still awaiting a dragon companion.
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