Release date: January 15th 2017
Platform: Xbox One $14.99
Sylvio is a pretty unique "horror" game. The story sounds something out of a cliche horror movie, taking place in a no name little town after a landslide wipes out most of it. Just like the movie of the early 2000's, a Mist starts to be created from the landslide's resulting mud which rises up into the air. Ironically, it possesses powers to kill insects, so people try to profit off of it. What is truly scary about Sylvio is not the story or gameplay at all, but rather the darkened environment, background colors and lack of visible emotion from its characters.
In Sylvio we control a little girl named Juliette Waters. The levels are set up with Juliette traversing through each area attempting to record the voices that emanate from the mist. These voices are those of people who died in the landslide. Equipped with a reel to reel recording system, we'll need to solve puzzles and decipher voices from white noise in order to uncover clues on how to progress. It's a rather unique setup as I haven't seen anything like it yet.
Each area requires you to solve the puzzle in order to unlock the story of a specific person who died in that area. You won't be alone however. Although dubbed a "horror" game, Sylvio is really a puzzle game with supernatural elements at heart. The game OXENFREE comes to mind in terms of setup, as it is something that can be very weird, but not really scary, with some ghosts/alien type enemies thrown in. Since many people died in this landslide, of course not all of them are good. Therefore, some of the voices you hear in the mist are bad and these "ghosts" begin to come after you. Dispatching them with an airgun causes them to evaporate into the air, which you the record with your reel to reel in order to gain clues for the puzzle.
Some of these enemies come after you while others need to be sought out, but each one does provide a necessary clue in order to solve the puzzle. The game develops along with its story as you play, which makes the puzzle solving even better. Many times in puzzle games the story will be played out for you already, just leaving you frustrated and bored if you can't solve a puzzle. Sylvio ties the story progression into the puzzles which keeps you interested the entire time.
I came into Sylvio expecting a horror, jump scare type of story but that couldn't be farther from reality. The 'horror' feeling is more about the overarching story in general rather than a scared feeling. After all, you are a little girl who doesn't seem to care about walking over mud covering dead bodies. Who doesn't seem to care about listening to voices of people who she knew now dead in the mist. It's a surreal notion that one could seem to care so little for humanity and such a devastating event. The 'horror' portion of the game is that Sylvio never focuses on this as it's just lurking in the back of your mind. Which brings me to the 'psychological' part of the psychological horror. Sylvio doesn't mess with your head, it causes you to mess with your own head. It's a unique twist to the puzzle genre, which is completed with the dark ambience of the surrounding environment.
Sylvio is technically sound as well. At no point did I experience any hiccups or glitches, and it didn't take me in roundabout circles like some puzzle games do. Add in the well executed themed music and Sylvio is a surprising puzzle game with a twist. Don't go into Sylvio thinking it's just going to be a horror game, because you'll miss out on its actual message. Fire it up expecting a puzzle solver with its own story and you'll get the full experience I believe the developer intended.
It's available now on Xbox One for $12.99