GYLT Review: Baby-Stepping Into Horror
Google Stadia launches on November 19 with almost two dozen games in its launch lineup, and even the most active gamers could only have played 21 of them because Tequila Works' GYLT is a brand-new exclusive launching first on Stadia.
I've fallen hard for the studio's recent games, and it's their eclectic mix of genre-hopping that has become Tequila Works' signature move. That, once again, is plainly evident in GYLT.
Even as it's not their best game, this horror-adventure looks great no matter who you are and will be sufficiently spooky for genre first-timers, just the way the devs planned it.
GYLT Review: A Familiar Setup
GYLT takes about six hours to finish, though you'll only need a fraction of that before you realize it's a very familiar kind of game. The way the game's protagonist, Sally, moves through her corrupted mining town of Bethelwood in search of her younger lost cousin Emily packs the same kind of progression you'd recognize from horror gaming in its heyday.
Strangely shaped keys are needed to open some doors, wire puzzles grant you the electricity to access new areas, and combat is built on fight-or-flight decision making. In many ways, GYLT feels like Resident Evil Jr., and that's a good thing — mostly.
Crouching around while waiting for patrolling monsters to look the other way is a pretty simple mechanic and reminds me of the stealth games of yore when enemy patterns were less sophisticated. It's reasons like this that make GYLT not a chore to play, but certainly something many players will have seen countless times over.
Fighting against the many monster types using a flashlight and fire extinguisher is a bit better, especially because there's often enough wiggle room to avoid fighting at all.
Still, all of this means the gameplay never introduces any new or novel idea, instead choosing to reiterate a lot of what's come before. Ultimately, that also means it can be a very cozy kind of game, despite the horrors that chase you through halls and hedge mazes.
Crafting a Cohesive Scare
What separates GYLT from its clear inspirators lies in its fundamentally different and nearly-unique brand of horror. GYLT isn't likely to scare most players, and it certainly won't scare any that have played a bit of horror before. But for genre newcomers like kids or the uninitiated, it will leave its mark thanks to great use of light and shadow, as well as its creepy monsters.
GYLT is nothing if not cohesive. Its rote gameplay experience is more easily forgiven due to how the rest of it helps bring Tequila Works' obvious vision to life. They call it a "delicate horror." Synonyms may include introductory horror, gateway horror, or horror for kids, like a Goosebumps book, or an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Whatever you want to call it, few in the horror genre, especially within games, are making this kind of dedicated horror experience for younger or more inexperienced players. The end result is a flawed but admirable project imbued with awesome style and commendable purpose.
The soundtrack's first motions help sell the game's spooky setup and inform players that its intentions as a game are never to get too scary. It packs the creepiness of a Coraline or something like it — creepy, no doubt, but not traumatizing.
That too goes right along with the character and world design, which looks like something Pixar would do if they daringly dove into horror. Proportions are off, the world is slightly warped, and colors pop off the screen. It's a creepy cartoon come to life. All of this is why the familiarity of GYLT's gameplay aspirations are mostly overshadowed by a charming commitment to a singular aesthetic.
GYLT Review: To be Continued?
- Cohesive and impressive design as a "delicate horror"
- Great art and music gives it the atmosphere of a good CG movie
- Story seems to miss a few important beats
- Gameplay feels very familiar
My only other gripe with GYLT comes in its storytelling. Advertised as a game about bullying and, of course, guilt, the game likes to slow-crawl some of its murkier elements. Even so, those central mysteries unfold a bit messily, leaving me confused at times in moments I won't spoil. It simply has a rushed feeling at times, like it sets up a few mysteries and forgets to answer them.
It's possible I missed some important collectibles as they flesh out the backstory to Bethelwood well, but that also means the devs hid some major plot points in the pages of scattered journals, and it feels like that crosses a threshold beyond what should be allowed in storytelling. Some beats are too important to squirrel away in missables.
GYLT is a good game for most audiences, though I do believe it's a great one for players new to horror. The punch it packs will not unsettle desensitized genre veterans — not nearly, in fact.
But the art design, music, story themes, and, most importantly, lighter horrors, all go far to make GYLT something different than most anything else in the genre today, especially when it comes to video games specifically. Kids deserve horror they can enjoy too, and GYLT is the perfect starting place.
[Note: Tequila Softworks provided a copy of GYLT for the purpose of this review.]