Slender: The Arrival is either going to wind you up so tight with tension that you'll feel like you'll implode from fear, or make you so angry that you split your entire game room in two. There's really little middle ground between the two. Why? Because a teleporting monster that can appear anywhere around you and kill you on contact is extremely frightening, but can also be extremely irritating when you have objectives to accomplish and it just won't go away.
If you don't know anything about the game's main antagonist, Slender Man, don't worry about it - the game will teach you all you need to know in a hurry. If he's anywhere near you the screen will start to blur over with a green distortion. This isn't a subtle effect - if you so much as look his way, the screen will flash with this visual noise, which is quite jarring, encouraging the player to run or look away. It's a natural reaction to the effect. You don't know what causes it, but it makes you want to get away from what's causing it.
So, you run away from the thing that's causing that distortion. Then, when you turn around, suddenly, it's in front of you again. This is because Slender Man can teleport wherever he wants to, popping around the environments at will. You could be in mid-turn to get away from him and find yourself staring right at him again. It's a sudden and dramatic effect, and one that will leave most hearts pounding.
This is where the environments start to work well. The forests, houses and abandoned mines the game takes place in, on top of being creepy, decrepit and dark locales, also often function like mazes. Not especially complicated ones, but when you're panicking and running from Slender Man it's very easy to get turned around or lose your way. Each location is peppered with landmarks and graffiti to help get your bearings again when you calm down, but are just confusing enough that it makes the terrified rush to escape him that much more harrowing. You're running, you don't even know where to, and you don't care.
If you can't keep your head, eventually he will corner you, killing you on contact. That, or one of his cronies will. Slender Man doesn't always chase the player by himself, enlisting a few other creatures to do so as well. In the mines there is a weird man that is also looking for you, although he has a corporeal form and can't teleport. He's a fast runner, though, and hearing his rapid footsteps behind you, moving faster than you can run, is very unsettling. He won't kill you, but he'll leave you in a rough state to escape from Slender Man. On the farmstead, another flesh-and-blood creature chases you, rushing through tight underground tunnels and taking shortcuts through the burnt maze of torched rooms as it follows after you. This one WILL kill you.
Another reason the maze-like areas work well to create panic is because you need to thoroughly search them for items as you play. You don't just have to escape the monsters - you have a job to do. In the woods area, you have to collect eight scraps of paper to move on. In the mines, you have to activate six generators. In the house you have to close all the windows and doors. All of these objectives get randomly scattered around the map, so even if you've played the game to death you'll still have to explore in order to find everything you need to beat the stage, which can be difficult when you're being chased by an opponent that leaves players prone to panic.
This is where the game's tense atmosphere gives way to frustration. When all you need to do is find something in a maze-like environment, it's annoying to keep getting chased off and lose track of where you are. Did you already search this spot? Even if you did, did you search it thoroughly enough before a monster chased you away? Also, when you're down to only one or two missing items the enemies become more persistent, making it almost impossible to search properly in the moments when you really need to. This can make a simple search take five, ten, or fifteen minutes longer than it should, aggravating the player until all that tense atmosphere melts away. You don't care if Slender Man kills you at this point. You just want the stage to end.
Oddly, the game's later stages don't suffer from this problem as much, so the difficulty starts high and gets easier as it progresses. This is because later stages don't require you to search for items as much, only asking that you dodge the enemy. These are much more tense and frightening as there's nowhere to hide, although you're technically just trying to follow a linear path. Still, it's easy to forget the simplicity of your task in these areas when something deadly is coming your way, your screen shuddering with unsettling static. The game stops breaking its own atmosphere in these areas, although it technically gets easier than the earlier item hunts.
The music and sound really crank up the unsettling atmosphere. The breathing, growling, and voices you hear in the dark are all extremely creepy as they frighten you into running. Hearing the enemy growing closer, its various sounds getting louder and louder in your speaker, will goad most players into a panic. The music, instead of creating these spikes of fear in the player, is a slow boil of dread, each tune increasing in intensity as you get closer to completing your objectives. Each seems to pulse with a heartbeat, rising as your enemies grow more persistent and angry, and making the player's heart pound along with it.
The visuals help strengthen this fear, when you can see them. Much of the game will only be seen through the narrow cone of your flashlight - which has Wii Remote support in this version - which means you usually only see something when it's quite close, accidentally catching a hint of your enemy for a startling surprise. Some horror games go overboard with the darkness and make it difficult to navigate, but Slender: the Arrival lights up landmarks and other areas to make it easy to get around, even if finer details are harder to make out. It strikes up a solid balance between confusing the player and being clear enough that they can get around easily.
The monsters look good from that distance, although it feels like a misstep to show them up close. When the player gets caught often the game has a little scene showing the monster freaking out, shown in first person. These moments are just a little too silly-looking; something about their appearances are just a bit too goofy when you examine their details up close. At a distance they look great, and considering you'll be fleeing from them that would work perfectly. Taking a moment to show them right in your face, flipping out, just made them look funny from our perspective.
When you're not getting annoyed at being unable to find the final item in a given area, Slender: The Arrival is an excellent horror game that will leave your pulse racing. It's terrifying to be chased by these relentless enemies - frightening to see them no matter where you turn as you lose yourself deeper and deeper in the game's maze-like environments. It's just a shame that it can get so unbearably annoying to have to find a single scrap of paper hidden in a forest while enemies seem to guard its location over aggressively. If you can tolerate these moments, however, you'll experience a truly frightening game that will leave your guts in knots as you try, and fail (and fail, and fail), to stay alive.