BY DEAN MOSES
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Mac
Rating: T for Teen
As gamers we yearn for fresh content. We play the same type of experience over and over again, from 2D platformers to epic roleplaying games. It’s not often a completely new genre comes along. Developers willing to attempt something original take quite the risk without an established foundation on which to erect their creation. Sylvio challenges the conventional horror genre by doing away with the majority of its clichés.
On The Hunt
We take control of a young paranormal investigator named Juliette as she enters a creepy, abandoned park in hopes of capturing ghosts on tape. There, amongst the dense mist and innumerable trees, she must use her recording equipment to not only capture the voices of the dead, but also decipher exactly what they are saying by slowing down, speeding up, and even reversing her tape. This game is not about scares or big boss battles; it’s about adventure, investigation, and recording the dead, instead of shooting them. Where most games place guns in your hands, Sylvio gives you a microphone. Will you help Juliette uncover a terrifying history, or is her investigation producing nothing more than ambient sounds?
Tricks of the Trade
In horror titles we have become accustomed to shooting lurching zombies or hulking monsters. Thankfully Sylvio contains none of the aforementioned beasties, it does, however, encompass ghosts in the form of orbs: black smokel-ike spheres that hover above ground. This paranormal phenomenon holds the key to both Sylvio’s narrative and gameplay. We see the world from a first-person perspective—through Juliette’s eyes—controlling her venture through the park’s forests, disheveled shacks, and all manner of spooky locations, accessible thanks to Juliette’s car—an easy way to traverse the wide-open landscape. The voices of those no longer corporeal linger all over the park, but in order to record them, you first need to find them. Following the static picked up by your microphone is a clear sign that ghosts might be trying to communicate from the afterlife. Follow this trail of static and you will find a muffled voice hanging in the air. Once you have recorded a voice, Sylvio’s finest gameplay element kicks into gear: the adhesive tape player. The voices Juliette documents can be replayed at anytime. However, they are often obscured and incomprehensible. Therefore, you need to help her decode the spirits’ messages by slowing their voice or, perhaps, even by playing them in reverse in order to reveal a hidden message. This is the bulk of the game, find a voice, and then repeat. The only action segments take place when you run into a previously mentioned orb. If these things touch you its instant death, so to prevent restarting you will want to make use of your blunderbuss—an air compression device that shoots potatoes. This will disperse the eerie manifestation and allow you to continue your investigation.
Through the Gloom
Sylvio is an independently developed title. Being such, the team behind it did not have a large financial backer. The lack of monetary support is most noticeable in the game’s graphics. Everything appears bland, from the paintings mounted on the walls to the trees scattered in the park. There is an extreme lack of detail, almost as if the world hadn’t finished loading when I spawned within it. These visuals would be more at home on a PlayStation 2 console rather than a PlayStation 4. Despite its crude appearance, Sylvio’s narrative retained my attention and its gameplay kept me entertained. I was almost able to overlook the poor graphics, almost.
Sylvio will impress many with its fresh take on the horror genre. We all expect jumps scares, and gruesome sights from our scary games, yet Sylvio chooses to take a gamble by throwing all that out the window. While it is never truly unsettling, it does remain somewhat eerie and, even more importantly, intriguing. I wanted to discover what happened in that park and record all the ghostly voices. With that being said, this is certainly not for everyone. If the graphics don’t turn some off, others will find the slow, repetitive pace too boring. If you like trying new things and prefer your scares on a more psychological level, Sylvio is the game for you.