Slender is everything that a 21st century survival horror game should be.
Set in a desolate forest with nothing but a few abandoned vehicles, a creepy tunnel and a couple of single story buildings in among the abundance of trees, you are given nothing but a torch and a single command – "collect all 8 pages".
The lack of context drastically increases the tension as you walk through the forest (sprinting is kept to an absolute minimum) trying to recover said pages, constantly pursued by the mythical 'Slender Man' as you do so.
The game is free, with sub-par graphics (the Slender Man in particular is almost comically poorly rendered) and a very simple premise, yet creator Mark J. Hadley has successfully taken all of the greatest elements of horror movies (mysticism, intrigue, the impending fear of doom, jump scares) and combined them to create a video game which has seen multiple YouTube users upload 'reaction' videos of themselves playing it – the ultimate acknowledgement that you have gone viral, as evidenced by '2 Girls 1 Cup' and that bloke who shoved a jar up his bum.
Playing Slender, or rather experiencing it, is like visiting a world where Resident Evil 5 never happened, where the word "survival" was never ruthlessly torn from the survival horror genre and where gamers never felt unintimidated by the things that go bump in the night – Slender is nothing special by any stretch of the imagination, but it is important.
The reason behind the success of Slender is the same reason behind the success of Minecraft: it's a concept that gamers have been calling for developers to create for years, but has taken the initiative of one likeminded individual to finally put that idea into fruition. Gamers asked for a LEGO game where they would be given the tools to create anything they wished, and so independent programmer and designer Markus 'Notch' Persson brought them Minecraft. Gamers asked for a The Blair Witch Project-style horror game, and thus Slender was born.
Similarly, Arma 2 mod DayZ has brought to life an idea that gamers have craved since the words "zombie apocalypse" first became embedded in popular culture, offering players the opportunity to see how they would fare in a "real" zombocalypse setting, faced with rationing food, dealing with volative fellow survivors and fending off the looming threat of the undead. Both DayZ and Slender defy convention by having a non-existent narrative, yet also remain pant-wettingly terrifying. This is what the survival horror genre has been missing over the last decade.
Following the critical and commercial success of Resident Evil 4, Capcom made a decision to take their flagship franchise in an action-oriented direction. The old 'spinning top' control scheme of Resi games of old would no longer cut the mustard in the 21st century, so it was decided that the series needed to evolve into a more traditional third-person shooter. Unfortunately, Resident Evil 5 saw Capcom step away from the tension and dread they'd so deftly implemented in Resi's back catalogue, instead incorporating misguided co-op play and a harder focus on shooting and blowing shit up. By doing so they effectively nullified the 'survival' aspect of the survival horror genre, instead throwing in a few jump scares into a relatively standard 3PS.
Resident Evil 6 will see Capcom continuing to push co-op gameplay, but they have also promised a larger focus on scares – I'll reserve my judgement until I play the final game. Likewise, Dead Space is moving into 'Fun With Friends!' territory following the Left 4 Dead-esque competitive multiplayer mode of Dead Space 2 (which made all of the single player mode's enemies approximately 90% less terrifying by allowing you to be in control of them) by also including a much-criticised co-op mode in the third iteration in the series. Again, I'll reserve my judgement.
Perhaps you are of the mindset that, as long as a game is a good game, then it needn't stay confined within the rules of a genre. And that's fine. But as a gamer who still fondly remembers the time that dog jumped through the window in the original Resident Evil, I long for another game to cause me as little sleep as that single scene did.
Slender, in all its simplistic, amateur glory, has restored my love in a genre that has been criminally under-represented for far too long. Here's to hoping that this may soon change.