There are few things more disappointing than a game that explores a novel concept in new and exciting ways only to fail at almost everything else. It can be a real bummer, not just because you’re watching that game slowly crash and burn despite its fun idea, but that you know that mechanic probably won’t be explored again anytime soon by more competent games. This is the story of Sylvio.
Sylvio actually debuted on Steam back in heady, bygone days of 2015. The world is different now, though. It’s 2017 and Sylvio has achieved a full release on Steam, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. It wasn’t worth the wait.
Here the player is cast as Juliette Waters, an intrepid audio technician who specializes in using electronic voice phenomenon to capture the voices of the dead. During an investigation at an old abandoned amusement park, Juliette becomes trapped with nothing but her wits, her flashlight, and her dandy old reel-to-reel audio recorder.
Gameplay consists of navigating ugly environments, ignoring the visual bugs and attempting to decipher the dark surroundings you find yourself in with nothing but a poorly working flashlight. By poorly working, I don’t mean that there is some story reason that the thing flickers on and off, or any clever tense element, but that the light provided is so inconsistent that I often found myself checking to see if it was on at all.
Occasionally you’ll find yourself being menaced by a malevolent black orb. Touch the thing and you’re one dead paranormal investigator. Luckily, if you shove some sharp stuff into your gas powered detritus gun you’ll be able to pop the hovering nasty like the inky black balloon that it appears to be. Note that blunt objects loaded into said armament won’t serve this function, those are for puzzle solving. There is no way to cycle to different ammo types without firing them off.
The core gameplay loop in Sylvio gets tedious fairly quickly. Find yourself in another area that has gated you off so that you cannot progress, find an item, progress. Deal with nasties as they arrive and puzzles as they present themselves. Repeat for about four hours. The story is slowly drip fed to you and isn’t compelling enough to make it worth it. You’re talking to ghosts in an abandoned amusement park; something sad and depraved happened here, that was also thoroughly generic.
Sylvio does do one thing alarmingly well, however, and that is the acquisition and investigation of recorded ghostly messages. As you traverse the world you’ll find spots where your recorder starts picking up weird interference. Follow it through and you’ll eventually find a single cryptic ghostly part of a message. That’s neat and all, but the goodness comes from the longer audio recordings you find in the world, pick up after dealing a wayward spirit, or acquire through a séance. With these recordings you are given control of the playback speed and the ability to scrub through them forward or in reverse to uncover hidden messages.
While the act of searching for these little bits of joy feels like solving a mystery all their own, they really have little to no impact on the actual game. Such a cool mechanic being dragged down with this mess is the true horror of Sylvio.