The Slater is a first-person stealth adventure, developed and self-published by Laina Interactive, where you play as Mark Slater, an ex-cop on the hunt for your father’s killers, after he gets murdered by gangsters while investigating a new drug on the street ‘D-Pain’. To do this, you must infiltrate their bases, gain information and kill targets, all without being discovered.
When I started playing this game, I mocked it mercilessly. Mark Slater is an overly macho everyman-nobody to the point that I just couldn’t take him seriously. The storyline is, to put it politely, pants and the writing and voice acting at times got so cheesy I burst out laughing, kind of the opposite of what I think the developer is aiming for. One example is, I kept laughing at one character who kept talking about the drugs in question as ‘The D-Pain’ in the same way my mum calls social media ‘The Facebooks’, making it all feel out of touch and forced. The graphics and sound design would fit right in with a lot of the games I played in the late 90s/early 00s and the use of a big red outline at times on interactable objects just felt like bad UX design. With all that being said, despite the fact that there are a lot of issues with The Slater, it didn’t stop me enjoying the hell out of it.
I’m a big fan of stealth-action games like Hitman and Alias, and there really aren’t that many out there to begin with. Once you get past the disconcerting head movement as you walk or run, the mechanics in this game are fairly solid. You can kill people or knock them out, steal their clothes and sneak in. Like Hitman, there’s usually more than one way to achieve your goals, from sneaking in as a guard and shooting your target, or becoming a waiter and poisoning their drink. For me, the level design is where this game truly excels, and I found that, so long as I ignored the packaging, the core of The Slater is incredibly fun. The puzzle-solving aspect on how to achieve your missions and goals is just as satisfying as it is in any other game well-known in this genre and although at times there felt like there were some arbitrary AI rules, for the most part, it played smoothly.
I didn’t boot The Slater up expecting a AAA title, I expected it to be rough around the edges. And because of just how well designed the mechanics and gameplay are, there’s something endearing to me about said roughness, which sparked a nostalgia for early games like Hitman, back when it first came out in 2000 with Hitman Codename 47. That game was far from perfect, but the issues within the game did not prevent it from being the success that it still is today. And you could argue that in the last 18 years, something of the charm of the original Hitman games has been lost. As games continue to get more slick and smooth, refining and building on the work that came before, there’s an element of the endearing issues within game design becoming lost. These endearing elements to me, don’t make the game unplayable, but just stand out as Not Great Design, that later down the line we come to identify fondly with our favourite titles. Metal Gear Solid 2 has some of the craziest mechanics I’ve ever tried, and yet anyone I know who played it remembers it fondly. Final Fantasy 7 has terrible language translation, but I remember nothing but a great experience. The Room is a legitimately bad movie, and yet it’s a cult classic for what I believe to be similar reasons.
I feel like The Slater sparks this kind of fondness – it’s a legitimately fun game, and once you discover that, yeah the graphics still aren’t great, but it really doesn’t matter because of how well it handles. Sure the writing is a bit stilted and cheesy, but it kind of adds to the game’s own type of charm. Maybe you won’t feel this way if you’re not a long-term fan of these types of games, but I still feel that The Slater has its own kind charm in the things that initially make it feel like a bad game, eventually becoming some of the reasons that added to my enjoyment of it (or at the very least, didn’t subtract from it). I should also note that this game is an impressive feat when you take into consideration it was created by a one-man band.
I feel like the writing in this game is probably the biggest area of improvement for the developers next title, but as someone who cares more about being a stealthy badass without really caring why I’m doing it, I still think I’d purchase their next title even if they didn’t improve it.