Remember Slender? You know, that thing you probably played in broad daylight, but it still made your skin prickle as though being assailed by the spindly legs of a thousand shaggy spiders? Of course you do. It only came out last month, silly. Also, if you're anything like me, you probably won't forget it until you draw your last breath, because oh god please just leave me alone, how do you keep appearing in the corner of my eye, couldn't you be something friendlier like an army of one thousand arm-obsessed spiders? So now along comes Sanatorium, the first in a series that describes itself as "not intended to be a copy - simply a way for people who loved Slender to be able to face their fear on a different map with the same awesome gameplay. There are some differences which will make playing a somewhat unique experience - different AI, new sounds, and a different environment." It's also free, but - in spite of that non-existent price tag - I'm not entirely sold on this one.
In case you were worried, yes, Slender's still scary if you put it in an abandoned asylum. I know. I'm shocked too. But Sanatorium feels like a step backward from Slender in almost every way. The level itself is cramped and full of objects that could be mistaken for Slenderman when you're frantically glancing around, but it never quite finds its footing. In part, this is due to the fact the sanatorium's also insanely repetitive - recycling the same few bedrooms and hallways with only minor tweaks, to the point where it's pretty easy to get lost or turned around. It's definitely at its best when hallways open up into more interesting lobbies and things of the like, but even then, the whole place is just sort of drab.
Also, the creators mention new AI, and it shows. In Slenderman's Shadow, Slenderman's a shadow of his former self. His pursuit of my immortal soul was nowhere near as relentless or well-timed as it was in the original Slender. Yes, this was still an experience that nearly made me leap out of my seat when - in real life - my phone suddenly announced that I'd gotten a text message, but it never reached the same type of fever pitch that Slender managed. Also, the sound effects repeat way too much, which further diminishes the mystique and unpredictability that goes into making this kind of thing scary in the first place.
All that said, Sanatorium's still good for a quick bout of the heebie-jeebie-oh-sweet-lord-I'm-going-to-die-ies, but it's not quite on Slender's level. Happily, however, creators Marc Steene and Wray Burgess will have a chance to learn from feedback and improve their craft, as they plan on continuing the Slenderman's Shadow project with four more maps throughout August and September. In the meantime, though, here's a trailer of Sanatorium with an incredibly bizarre ending that - as far as I can tell - isn't really related to the game. Huh.