Created by Nickolas Swanberg, Sylvio follows the investigation of Juliette Walters, an audio recordist who uses her audio skills to listen to the dead. She finds herself in Saginaw, a long since abandoned Family Park, hoping to uncover the mysteries of why this beloved park has been abandoned for so many years.
Using your trusted Stelotron sound recorder, “the modern way to communicate with spirits”, you search around Saginaw and listen out to the cries of the dead as you slowly compile the evidence as to why the park was abandoned. With your microphone in hand, you search for sound waves, pops or any static whispers to hear the words of its, since past, visitors. The same implement can also be used to unlock combination lockers to retrieve keys, in order to open doors and items of interest which help uncover parts of the mystery.
Once you home in on these whispers you discover that they are black entities (usually black clouds, or light orbs), that are materialised spirits that, if not dealt with efficiently can be fatal to you. They can be tackled with your “gun” which is created by pressurised spray cans that fire projectiles such as bolts, nails and even vegetables which are collected throughout Saginaw.
As well as searching for whispers and words throughout the park, you can have a more tamed approach in the form of a séance, in which you can ask questions to particular spirits and collect audio tapes left behind by people. This usually gives you more precise answers and gives you a better idea of what happened, rather than just hearing the odd word here and there which requires more context to piece together the puzzle. Once the voices have been recorded, you can play back the audio at various speeds and directions to uncover the hidden words and meanings within. This is the game aspect that sets it aside from others – collecting audio files is a pretty basic element of games, but very few let you manipulate it yourself to create the story. At the beginning of Sylvio this aspect was delightfully appealing and its approach to manipulating audio got me hooked instantly, but after 4/5 hours of repeating this over and over, it did begin to get boring and made the main appeal of the game seem tedious. The idea is fantastic and, hearing that there may be a sequel in the works, makes me curious as to how that will be changed in the next instalment. But having a few other things to do in the game would have been welcomed.
The park in Saginaw is fairly open, but I couldn’t help but feel that this was a false sense of exploration as the game usually tells you where to go, and it is up to you to uncover or find certain elements in a specific order to develop the story. Usually I don’t mind this because when the story itself is so gripping and involved you don’t really want to explore; you just want to progress the story and find out exactly what happens, and NOW! Sadly, Sylvio didn’t have this grip and I felt that the story really dragged out over my ten hour or so experience. I was collecting sound after sound and putting this puzzle together piece by piece, but the game did so at such a snail’s pace that the story seemed to become tedious and I just wanted to get it over with.
Visually the game will, I feel, divide players as it is definitely not an aesthetically modern looking game. It’s very stripped back and almost felt like I was playing an early Xbox 360 game. I felt that this was done due to the idea that Sylvio’s premise is based on sounds, not visuals, and having too much to look at will overload the senses and take away the focus of listening to all these spirits to solve the mystery. The only way the game brought this back was through the use of a continuous red mist throughout. This mist gives a sense of blood and danger that never leaves – it creates a constant state of tension and unease, representing the horrors that took place here so many years ago.
This is exacerbated by the lack of music. See, some horror games create the sense of tension by the continuous undertone of minor key orchestral music that is associated with fear or menace, but Sylvio has very little, meaning you are never truly aware of anything threatening or dangerous in your immediate vicinity. This does make Sylvio unlike most horrors as there aren’t any jump scares with big, ghoulish monsters, but a constant sense of discomfort as the games’ characters reveal truly horrific stories as to what happened in this park, whether it was physical or emotional.
Sylvio is a refreshing take on the horror genre, one that made me constantly uneasy and left me honestly not knowing what to expect around the next corner. It took a new idea and developed it beautifully, hopefully spawning other games with a similar premise. However, the visuals of the game let it down tremendously, as well as the games painfully slow progression that made me just want to get the game finished, rather than not wanting my experience to end!
If you’d like to try a new approach to horror and like a slow paced game then go right ahead, but personally I want something with a bit more variation and bit more speed.