By – Jarrett Riddle

Sylvio Review He

Grab your microphone and bug sprayer, we’re going ghost huntin’! Sylvio from Apostrophe aims to be an eerie trek through various haunted fields and houses that manages to satisfy without relying on jump scares. With the staggering amount of first person horror titles available on the indie market, do Sylvio’s unique spirit communication mechanics separate it from the crowd, or is this one that should just pass on?

Juliette Waters, expert communicator with the dead, travels to the long-closed Saginaw Family Park to investigate paranormal activity. What would cause the restless spirits of this area to act out? Perhaps the massive landslide in 1971 that cut short the lives of nearly the entire population. Placed in the role of this almost unusually brave woman, I traversed the increasingly spooky locales within the park grounds, trying to piece together reasons why such apparitions are still floating around in the mortal world.

The hunt began outside, where much of the game takes place. This area served primarily as practice for navigating and using tools to decipher the distorted mumbles of the deceased. I’ll be honest, this opening segment didn’t make a great first impression with me, as it seemed to highlight the platforming parts of the game more than other, more fun elements. Yes, I felt a tad ridiculous jumping across rusty construction materials and scaling the side of a building to even get into the park. Perhaps I had the wrong expectations going in, but I don’t recall many of the horror game greats that made the player hop around on platforms. Besides, timing and aiming jumps from a first person perspective can be very frustrating, usually doing little to add to the fun factor of such games. Exceptions do occur, but I wouldn’t put this one in that list. The good part is that you can’t die from falling, but this again looks a little silly, as your character just kind of floats down to Earth like an umbrella-clad Mary Poppins. By the end of this introductory section, I had a sour taste in my mouth and my expectations plummeted for what was to come.

Sylvio Review Sum

Things only got worse, as a gun-like weapon was found nearly from the very start of the next level. At this point I was thinking, “Crap, this is turning out to be a 3D platforming shooter with a ghost theme slapped on it.” Still, I tried my best not to draw any conclusions just yet. In this decayed, unsettling hospital I was wandering around in, I figured there were a lot better things I could be doing other than firing off an old bug sprayer. A puzzle that involved shooting balls to knock a tire from an unreachable ledge certainly didn’t help my outlook on the matter, either.

But then the game’s direction shifted. After breaking through a boarded up exit with an old car that I miraculously got working, Sylvio became more about what I had expected: Communicating with and understanding the strained voices of the dead. And though my reactions to many other aspects were negative, I must say that this is an area where the game truly shines, and makes some of the other tedious elements worth completing just to experience.

From here on, the general flow of gameplay stayed almost entirely the same from one area to the next; Hold my microphone and spin in a circle, stopping when an unusual noise frequency appears, then following the signal until floating orbs appear. Recording the voices in these areas can yield valuable information about items that can be taken, or locations where actions can be performed. After interpreting the message, the object or set piece referenced will be text labeled so they can easily be found. Aside from shooting black orbs and mostly-static shadow people with the bug sprayer of doom and a few use-item-at-certain-location puzzles, this is the grand majority of what I did.

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This cycle, while always keeping me busy, would occasionally get repetitive and downright boring. But the fun here isn’t in participating in a scavenger hunt, it’s in uncovering the messages that lead to it. Certain recorded messages will be automatically written in a notepad, which can then be accessed for the purpose of deciphering everything that was said. This works by feeding the recording through a tape machine with forward, backward, slow, and fast playback settings. Every time a complete message is heard by manipulating these settings, it’s jotted down alongside the original entry. Seances are also conducted that involve multiple instances of this feature, with the answers to each question asked by candlelight getting their own journal entry.

Unfortunately I’m going to hop on the negative horse again here. Remember how I said trotting around collecting items and generally doing the same thing can get repetitive? So too can interpreting. What starts as a fresh and exciting new mechanic eventually breaks down into just playing the recording repeatedly at different speeds, which isn’t wildly different from just hitting the fast-forward and rewind buttons on a VCR (if people still know what those are). To me, this mini game should be the sole focus of any sequels or clones that stem from this game, and would benefit greatly from being expanded upon. Perhaps adding an editable wavelength view that lets the player differentiate between the ghost voice and background noise, or the ability to pick and choose which questions are asked during seances. Anything that would invite the player to become directly involved and have an influence in how tasks are carried out could potentially make the tape recording sections go from a good one-off mechanic to a must-have in supernatural games of this type.

Sylvio takes place predominately in dark, time and disaster-worn locations that aren’t meant to be pretty. That being said, a consistent art style combined with decently sharp textures allows for the game to take place in a desolate environment while not being hard on the eyes. Another touch I like personally is the grainy filter covering the screen at all times, providing a found-footage vibe that pre-90s horror movie fans are likely to enjoy. Options allow for windowed or full screen mode, along with many possible resolutions ranging from 640×480 to 1920×1080 and a general graphics quality adjuster. The only real complain I have in the graphics department is that in the between-levels areas, there isn’t a whole lot going on visually other than some trees and, rarely, a broken down shanty with little contents.

Sylvio Review 3

On the audio side, music and sound effects generally convey the dark, mysterious tone that I feel the game is going for. Most of the time, ambient sounds and voices of spirits are all that is heard. On occasion, a low, non-intrusive tune will fade in, but in such a way that never interferes with finding ghosties. The protagonist will sometimes have things to say about a room or occurrence, but truthfully these rarely add anything of value to the setting or story. In fact, it can sometimes be annoying how unfazed or even bored she sounds, given all the paranormal events she encounters. There’s never any jump scare moments, or times when Juliette’s reaction is overly loud or jolting in itself, which is a plus. I just think she could show a little more emotion, particularly when new story elements are discovered.

Depending on your preferred way of playing games, controls can be a mixed bag. For keyboard users, movement uses the traditional WASD format with the mouse used for looking. Something that struck me as odd however is the game’s dependence on the number keys. I know this is commonplace in shooters and the like for changing weapons, but it just feels odd to me here. With fully functional Xbox 360 controller compatibility available, I found myself switching to it as my primary means of input so I wouldn’t have to press 3 just to toggle inventory items. Another frownie here for the fact that there’s no way to remap the controls, either.

Bugs are found in most any game and Sylvio is no exception. An irritating, and somewhat frequent overlook I ran into early was that navigation in menus can also move your character around in the game world. This led to my death on more than one occasion. Another strange mishap is when a game is loaded and everything seems to be functioning correctly with the exception of certain objects visually missing. This occurred when I loaded my game while I was still in the middle of fixing the car, only to see the wheel I attached to the car was gone. At first I was afraid I’d have to start the game all over, but ignoring the problem and proceeding anyway, I was able to drive the car away with only three visible wheels.

Sylvio Review 4

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

I may have come off harshly about certain aspects of Sylvio during this review. The general repetitiveness of certain activities certainly have a negative impact on the overall experience. But between these chore-like tasks exists a large gap filled with atmospheric, unique, and most importantly, fun gameplay. The ultimate question is are interesting, exploration and inquisitive-based locales and mechanics enough to make Sylvio worth $12.99? The answer is simple: Absolutely.

Sylvio Technical Summary:

Sylvio Review Sum

  • Time Played – 10 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Some
  • DRM – Steam (Can be played in offline mode)
  • System Specs – 3.7 GHz AMD A10-6700, 768MB Radeon 8670D, 8GB RAM
  • Control Scheme – M/KB, 360 Gamepad
  • Saved Game Location – SteamApps\common\Sylvio\sylvio_win_Data
  • Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam
  • Demo – No
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