Often times, comparing video games can be like comparing apples and oranges, however with Slenderman games this just never seem to be the case; it’s more akin to comparing two different jars of the same jam: sure they are objectively different objects but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to get one over the other, and if you didn’t like the taste of one jar, I am certain that another jar of the same jam won’t taste any better.
However, then came along Shadow Shifters’ The Slenderman Stories: The Orphanage and while it still seems to be another jar of miscellaneous spread, it tastes a good deal better and has a lot more substance than anything else I’ve seen on the shelves lately.
There is only so much one can actually do with the Slenderman; I’m not exactly anticipating Slenderman Kart Racer or the like. The games keep to themselves, or rather each other, and none of them ever seem to build vertically off of one another so much as expand horizontally: there is new ‘content’, but it’s all the same level of depth (finding sheets of paper in the woods as opposed to finding teddy bears in a children’s school). But The Orphanage actually challenges this dusty rule for once, adding a bit more depth to the core gameplay (in the form of your flashlight now functioning as a camera that can see spirits), more-than-half-decent music, interesting set pieces, and an actual plot, of sorts. Though what has surprised me the most so far is the pleasant lack of the Slenderman himself insofar. It isn’t that I dislike the Slenderman as an antagonist, but the game certainly wants to focus more on its own, unique plot than toss around ‘standardized’ scare-tactics at the player, and I can respect it immensely for this.
But before I give The Orphanage a free pass, let me tell you a funny story about this game: I actually had an article, much like this one, written up a full week ago, but the very day I was going to finish it, I went over to a friend’s flat to do a bit of man-child gaming, and when I arrived, he was playing Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. I watched for a bit; it looked interesting enough, but I was purely audient. Then, out of nowhere, Harry Mason whips out a camera phone and my first thoughts are ‘Say, that looks familiar to some other horror game I’ve been looking at all week.’ and then seconds later he flips on the phone’s camera and starts looking at a ghostly child’s spirit through it, and my thoughts then switch to ‘Whelp, time to write a new article.’
What I liked about the phone in Shattered Memories was that it really did feel like a phone; it called folks, recieved messages, had the aforementioned camera, and several other features. On the other hand, the player’s phone in The Orphangae functions about the same as the flashlight in Luigi’s Mansion (point at ghost: see ghost). Yes, I may be entirely wrong in saying this, but research is a crucial part of game development; half because it helps to be familiar with the topic of whatever you’re making, and half so you don’t end up lifting your core game mechanics from something that’s already been released.
However, unlike most of the Slenderman games, you spend a lot of time in The Orphanage indoors. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the outdoors in the slew of Slenderman mods and rubbish because you occasionally had to go inside small, indoor locations, like restroom facilities, and that provides excellent contrast and makes the player feel somewhat entrapped, but what has to be realized is that the player feels trapped because they know there is no escape if the Slenderman waits for them around the corner, on their way out. The Orphanage mimics this technique, despite being indoors because there is a balance between large, open rooms and smaller, cramped ones, and where it earns extra points is the atmosphere this creates: the fact that the plot focuses more on rescuing the spirit of a young boy, rather than the Slenderman himself seems more at home indoors, in a sort of haunted house Ghostbusters kind of way.
On the other hand, speaking of the plot, I can’t help but be ensnared by the feeling that it is rather half-baked. The move to make the plot about saving a young boy’s spirit is rather brilliant: fitting in with the series’ mythos, as well as branching out into the domain of true story telling. Though while the story has a well defined objective and antagonist, the role of a true protagonist is left wanting. Having a faceless protagonist works well under the right conditions: Gordon Freeman needn’t say a single word with all the well-characterized NPC’s in the game that fulfill the role of storytellers. Whereas, look at the characters of The Orphanage: you, the boy, and the Slenderman, as far as we know. Only the boy seems to speak (and even that is speculative), and seeing as that is mostly to give instructions to the players, unless Shadow Shifters manages pull off the same level of narrative gameplay as ICO, the storytelling may flop, and I have my reasonable doubts about that; instead I predict as series of bloodstained notes scattered about that are meant to tell you the whole story. Who knows, though, there may very well be some NPC’s in the orphanage’s grounds that do the talking, but then it just begs for my Are We Silent Hill Yet? stamp.
The Slenderman Stories: The Orphanage is something I would pay money to experience, if it’s any consolation, and it is certainly the most impressive Slenderman game out there, but praise aside it has a few elements left wanting. It clearly has a focus on storytelling, but there do not seem to be any storytellers; it aims to have more advanced gameplay, but is has all been done before, and better. I know it seems hard to still say this, but it is good for what it is worth, and it may just be the seed of confidence in me that says my worst fears will be dispelled and the holes get patched up; the team at Shadow Shifters seems very in tune with their fans and have thus far deliver an intriguing experience I want to know more about. Based on the content they upload, they clearly care about their game, and in complete honesty, so do I. Whatever it may turn out to be, it may at least be the start of something that evolves the Slenderman games beyond self-parasitic blip.
Article from Gamersyndrome.com