Originally released on PC in June of 2015, Sylvio comes to Playstation 4 with every bit of its spine-chilling psychological horror roots. This game follows ghost recorder Juliette Waters as she explores a deceptively tranquil and eerie family park, which was abandoned after a landslide killed most of its inhabitants. On the surface, this game is rather simple as you explore in first person through the rusted fog with only a flashlight for company.
However, as you delve deeper into the park and begin monitoring for electronic voice phenomena with your audio recording equipment, you discover that the long dead inhabitants are still calling this park their home. This is where Sylvio’s strength shines through as its primary form of both exploration, puzzle solving and disturbing horror. The player will spend most of their time pouring over these recordings; playing them forward, backward and at differing speeds to uncover the hidden messages and decipher the destination of the next clue to just what the hell happened here. These messages are crucial to solving the game’s numerous puzzles as well, which can involve finding parts to repair vehicles and machines or restoring power to a part of the park in order to progress. The puzzles at times can feel a little laborious or repetitive though broken up with combat or the occasional ghost recording.
As you explore, you’ll find various ways to uncover more clues by pursuing and speaking with the dead through séances, but also by fighting with ominous black orbs and figures that pursue you slowly but relentlessly. Armed with only a prototype gas-powered shotgun; you must find suitable ammunition in the junk and spare parts scattered about the park, conserving and replenishing both gas canisters and ammo must become second nature to avoid being caught by the dark apparitions, who become more difficult to exorcise as the game moves onward. Though this doesn’t sound so scary on paper, the buzz of your microphone as you explore and try to stay alive is a constant concern, especially as you must actively keep it equipped in order to know where your pursuer is even coming from.
Slowly but surely, an underlying story more sinister than any spirit begins to emerge as the player finds audio reels left by the mysteriously soft-spoken Bobby, telling the story of his remaining family shortly after the fatal landslide that destroyed the park.
In both tone and graphics, this game echoes past horrors like Silent Hill and Half-Life; tiptoeing through the fog in anticipation of the next enemy. In terms of handling, it’s a little clunky, and the graphics are somewhat dated for a 2015 release, even ported to the PS4. Panning can be a little jittery as well, with a reduced frame rate. However it certainly holds a retro-nostalgic feel to it that pairs nicely with the setting. The shooting mechanics are as simplistic as they come, general control mapping is intuitive and easy to grasp within the first hour.
The sound design is absolutely the best thing about this game; the soundtrack is just sparse enough to undercut the tension with a ‘Stranger Things-esque’ synth track as you explore. The otherwise dead silence means the slightest sound or electronic noise from your recorder heavily punctuates and sends a steady chill through you. Possibly the coolest thing about this title is the fact that all of the electronic sounds and voices are actually recorded on and taken from devices designed to detect EVP. It adds that classic “Based on real events” horror element that has you looking over your shoulder hours after you’ve stopped playing.
As a linear story, Sylvio feels like something akin to Gone Home or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture; travelling lonesome amidst the mystery of your surroundings and piecing together whatever happened from fragments of the past left for you to find. It also has about the same replay value, with little deviation in the story but more collectables to discover hidden away and more EVP to detect and note down in your pad. Despite the horror, there’s something more to the stories of these ghosts; an almost tragic backstory that pulls you in and has you play on in spite of your fear.
So, the verdict? An interesting and unique approach to the psychological horror, a nice break from the mainstream horror games we’ve seen lately. It certainly entices and intrigues. The art style and sound design bring an eerie sandbox to life and make up for the shortcomings with handling and graphical quality. If you like your horror to be more subtle, more nuanced and crafted in its delivery and more focused on exploration and puzzle solving, then Sylvio might be worth the download. Don’t go searching for this game expecting something like Outlast or P.T, it’s probably closer to the original Slenderman game than anything else. It’s a good ol’ indie title that you’ll play a few times, then you might just forget about it for a while, but it’s fun while it lasts.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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