Stadia gets spooky
Can you guess how many times I misspelled Gylt in this review and had to go back and fix it?
Gylt (Google Stadia)
Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Tequila Works
Released: November 19, 2019 (Stadia)
Gylt is the latest game from Tequila Works, a studio who specializes in a long line of emotional and artsy puzzle platformers, following in the footsteps of creators like Papo & Yo‘s Minority Media. There’s been a feeding frenzy for these kinds of narratives in the past 10 years, and now Tequila Works is trying their luck again with a (temporarily, allegedly) Google Stadia exclusive.
What begins as a tale about a bullied girl searching for another lost child slowly descends into madness, as shadow creatures (both literal and allegorical) pop up to wreak havoc on our headstrong hero Sally. We essentially get two stories: one is grounded in reality and deals with the very troubling life of Sally and Emily, and the other is a macabre mix of horror genre stylings of the “T-for-Teen” variety. You know, Cthulian eyeball tendrils, creepy creatures, things of that nature. The former theme is best reinforced by the item base, one of which is an inhaler that restores health, or soda cans that can be used to distract said baddies.
You know the drill for these types of games by now. Much of it is guided — either through some tense linear scenes or story sequences — and the rest is structured as a series of light puzzles. There’s locations to scour for keys to open doors. It has the classic action-adventure “move this object around to the right spot” brain teasers. It’s got collectibles and light puzzler-boss battles.
It goes a step further than that though and actually has a very gamey stealth mechanic that draws a lot of inspiration from Metal Gear Solid. Complete with a multiple alert state system, much of Gylt is spent sneaking around in a bid to avoid confrontation: but if all else fails, you can stealth kill (a sneak attack flashlight jab instead of a chokehold) or fight back by shining a light into enemy weakpoints. It’s a cool compromise without loading Sally up with magnum revolvers and shotguns.
How much fun (or emotional quotient) you get out of it is completely dependent on the area itself. Some are more effective than others, offering up lingering dread rather than jump scares, or better enemy placements that make for more engaging stealth gameplay. From a narrative standpoint Gylt doesn’t offer up a lot of revelatory material: instead preferring a slow burn as the story mostly serves as a way to move you from place to place as it quietly ponders your situation. That’s kind of a Tequila Works signature, for what it’s worth.
It’s weird to think of how a game “runs” on Stadia, since it’s not technically hardware, but it is a new delivery system. So…drum roll…it’s actually pretty great. I had the chance to test out Gylt running on a PC, a Google Pixel 3a, and a ChromeCast (the latter is the preferred method). Even running on the Pixel the game controlled well with a controller (you need to plug it in at this time, so have a holder/attachment ready), and I saw very little in the way of visual bugs or frameskips. Now that could very well be due to the pre-launch reviewer period, but reporting what I know in home internet conditions (102 Megabits per second), Stadia is more than capable of running this low-key tale.
Indie atmospheric adventure games are like candy to me, and I suspect some people are going to get a lot more out of Gylt than others. It’s very much in the same spirit as Concrete Genie in that it’s a short but mostly engaging romp that’s best enjoyed by the right kind of audience.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]