If you have ever watched a televised paranormal event where a group or medium sets out to interact with spirits and ghosts, you have more than likely heard some creepy recorded feedback that they gathered on hunts. This feedback, known as EVP (electronic voice phenomena), is believed to be perished persons thoughts or voices being omitted on to static or other background noises. It is creepy to think that this phenomenon could truly be a link to the afterlife. It is not so creepy to Sylvio's lead character Juliette Waters, an avid ghost hunter who decides to test out some new recording equipment on a long abandoned amusement park. The park was closed indefinitely after a landslide buried most of it, killing many as a result. Those that perished are still there, but are now remnants of their former selves, lost voices damned to wander. What started as a series of tests becomes a deep mystery, as the voices hint at more sinister happenings beyond that of a landslide. It is up to you to get to the bottom of things, reaching out to those that lie beneath.
Sylvio is a first person horror experience that was developed by Stroboskop, originally releasing to much user acclaim on Steam back in 2015. Now out on Xbox, the experience is relatively the same but opens the door to more players getting a chance to explore the Saginaw amusement park and uncover the secrets within it. Most of the game is spent exploring slightly open sections of the park. With your recording equipment, you can listen to spirits, which will unlock goals and secrets for you to pursue. Using the microphone, you can track and identify these spirits or waypoints. It is a slower, more modest approach on the genre that avoids the typical jump-scare notion and instead feeds of genuine chills and the players inevitable anxiety. The mic shows a wave sensor with a number, indicating how close you are to a recordable spirit. There are sounds to record that unlock clues to the happenings in your location, as well as hidden ones that serve as collectible snippets. Most of the recordings are to be dissected on your playback machine, which allows to speed up, slow down, and reverse recorded tracks to find hidden messages. These are essential to tracking down key items, but are also essential to the games best feature: the audio.
The haunting tracks are as authentic and creepy as it gets. I cannot tell you how many times I got goosebumps because of the audio direction in Sylvio. The messages are so cryptic and disturbing, feeling like they were either pulled from real ghost recordings or a high budget horror flick. Do not even get me started on playing with headphones, which is a truly rattling experience. They just mastered a genuine feel within these recordings, and they only get scary when you have to physically find the messages for yourself. Other audio cues are fairly solid, if not the standard affair. Both Juliette’s soft-spoken voice and the titles Twin Peak like tunes fit the aesthetic, delivering fitting vibes as you trek along the dark and dreary hillside. The atmospheric sounds are nothing special though, and often leave the quieter moments feeling a little dull. Visually speaking, the game is a bit dated. It would not be such a big deal if it ran more smoothly, but I will touch back on that shortly.
Aside from recording and dissecting the voices of the dead, you can actually fight some spirits that manifest themselves. Occasionally you will come across these black orbs which will gravitate towards you, killing you if they come within arm’s reach. These can be fought off with your gun, which is more of a potato launcher than anything. It shoots a variety of debris, which can either push or damage objects and foes depending on what is loaded. Potatoes, baseballs, and rocks are for interacting with distant objects; while glass, screws, and other dangerous items are used for “killing” the enemy so to speak. The gun is pneumatic, meaning from time to time you will need to swap out pressurized canisters to get some “oomph” behind your shots. While the black orbs are not really scary, there are giant, human like specters that will also appear. These are a lot harder to fend off, and will usually throw objects at you in attempts to kill you, but are still rather easy to get rid of. Aside from these short fights, you will often find yourself completing puzzles to advance. I like the diversity of these puzzles, as they are unique from area to area. Whether they are fetch quests or otherwise, they are all presented differently and interestingly with each one you come across.
The story behind all these matters was, for me personally, hard to follow. While I caught bits and pieces of story here and there, the rest seemed hard to draw out. We know of a man named Bobby, who is in some way related to the ownership of the park. We know he has done some dastardly things, both to humans and animals alike. A huge purgatory story line is there, and is played out through the course of the story, but never really hits a satisfying end. I feel Stroboskop could and should have used Juliette's voice to flesh out more of the story. The times she does speak are helpful, but are far and few in between. Had they had these deeper reflective moments like that of the introduction's narrative more throughout the story, like in between areas, it would have really helped bring the narrative together. From what I read, I am not the only one who was left scratching their head shortly after the credits rolled.
Other than the hard to follow story, the titles biggest hindrance is it's technical flaws. Popping textures, jagged frames, and muddy visuals brought my mood down by the time I wrapped the game up. If they were spread out more, I may not have minded, but the game showed a clear lack of polish. It is a bit overlong as well. While the 10-15 hours worth of gameplay is impressive, it was not necessary in my opinion. Much of the time comes from the slow walking of your character, but in bigger sections you can actually drive from task to task. The saving grace is the authenticity of the recorded specters, and the genuine scares derived from them. It’s a chilling game no doubt, but the port needed more polish, a smoother sense of things, and a bit more loving care as a package. I like the themes in place, do not get me wrong, but Sylvio just unfortunately peaks early on.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 7/10
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