Sylvio is a first person psychological horror game made by Indie developers Stroboskop. When it comes to horror games more often than not games promise lots and deliver next to nothing, with all the same jump scares and unconvincing voice acting they all seem to follow the same theme. Sylvio however offered something different from your usual atmospheric horror games, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen.
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Have you ever heard of Electronic Voice Phenomenon or EVP as it’s more commonly known? A few years ago a film called White Noise was released and it touched on EVP and explained what it’s all about. Basically to you and I EVP is where you get a microphone and a tape recorder and try to record ghostly voices that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to hear, the recordings are usually short and don’t offer much more than the listeners interpretation of what they think they heard, but some people believe that it’s a spirits way of communicating with the living. Sylvio is set in an abandoned Theme Park called Saginaw that was subjected to a massive landslide leaving it derelict and unloved. You play expert communicator Juliette Walters who specialises in EVP and turns up at the park for a look around.
My initial impressions of Sylvio were not favourable at all, the visuals are basic to say the least and there is often nothing to make objectives stand out and the path you follow is not obvious at all. The games start up was basic and appeared quite amateurish and unresponsive. You get a faint narrative from the games protagonist right at the start that gives you some background information about who you are but it was that quiet and her voice was so irritating it just annoyed me and to be perfectly honest I didn’t think it was worth my time at all. I don’t mind admitting at this point though that I was wrong, so very wrong.
Initially you’re equipped with your trusty torch (that does not require batteries) and your EVP microphone, by pressing the right trigger you hold out the microphone in a bid to try and listen out for the spirits communicating. Every now and then you’ll see small white orbs floating, if you hold out your microphone you will hear lots of static then the occasional single word spoken by a spirit, these words are then collected on your note pad for you to refer to later. The recordings however don’t stop there, as you progress you collect more recordings and using an old reel to reel tape deck you can manipulate the sounds by playing them at varying speeds and directions to try and collect key words that then give you clues on your objective and explain exactly what you’re supposed to do.
It goes without saying that the game is mainly a inventory puzzle game where you collect little bits that seem unimportant but all of a sudden you need everything to complete the overall objective. The areas are of a nice size meaning that you’re not going backwards and forwards over long distances adding to more frustration. The initial mission is you basically getting to grips with everything and finding all the necessary bits to be able to drive a car out of the start point and into the park. It’s not that straight forward and like I mentioned earlier not always that obvious what you have to do, but a smug sense of satisfaction washes over you when the penny drops and you get the point.
The major clues come after you overcome small black clouds which are basically your enemy. You find a gun early on in the game, when I say gun I mean a high powered spud gun, no joke. Your weapon is powered by bug spray cans that have to be switched out because the pressure drops, you collect replacements that are pretty much everywhere which is good. Your ammunition however comes in the form of spuds, nails and glass which you collect when you smash pictures of the what seem to be of the same woman placed all over the level. A clue you are about to come across a dark spirit starts with interference picked up by your microphone, the game makes good use of directional sound which gets louder and louder as the spirit gets closer. It took me a while to see what a spirit looked like because I kept dying and it seemed to be at random without any explanation, I then saw the spirit and shot it point blank with my spud gun and a nail. To my surprise this method worked and left behind a massive amount of static noise which transferred on to my notepad for me to listen to and manipulate meaning I could get the correct clue to proceed.
I was faced with what I can only describe as an end of level boss, the static noise started faint heightening my fear so I began looking around for a dark spirit, I moved around and the noise got louder and louder then all of a sudden I saw a massive pair of black legs moving towards me, I fired my nails frantically at the legs to disrupt the manifestation and after about 4 shots the monster went down. I have to be honest when I say that this genuinely scared me, it seemed like such a jump from what I had come across already and all of a sudden I realised, Sylvio had me hooked, line and sinker.
I feel that if I go into any more details about the game I’d be spoiling it for you, Sylvio had this talent to make me forget what I was looking at and concentrate on the objective instead of gazing at the aesthetics or lack there of. We have come to enjoy beautiful graphics and awesome visuals but when a game lacks either then it’s easy to rubbish it right from the start. A valuable lesson has been learned because what Sylvio lacks in beauty it makes up for in gameplay. Sylvio is basic with no dramatic build up music or gentle background tunes to lure you in to a false sense of security, the scares come because you’re dragged in whether you like it or not. After my initial harsh first impressions Sylvio is something I will be returning to, not very many games have made me physically grimace and none to my knowledge by simply making a single sound.