Gylt Review — An Atypical Launch Exclusive
Gylt is a solid but somewhat derivative adventure-horror game and an exclusive launch title for Google Stadia.
Exclusive launch titles are some of the most exciting games for any platform. They have an opportunity to leave a major impact and show what the system can do, like Wii Sports and Super Mario 64, or they can feel gimmicky and underbaked, like Knack or Fighter Within. Almost all of Google Stadia’s launch lineup contains games that have already come out, with Tequila Works’ Gylt being the only true exclusive. As such, a lot of eyes are on this title as people want to see what this new cloud-based platform can do.
Oddly, Gylt doesn’t do anything extraordinary to serve as a great technical showcase for Google Stadia. One may not even be able to tell it’s an exclusive at first glance. That being said, it isn’t a bad game by any means and is a great entryway into Silent Hill-esque adventure-horror games for younger players and also follows in the footsteps of emotional games like Sea of Solitude. Gylt seems to signify that Google is taking a more boutique approach to exclusives, choosing intriguing and experimental games rather than big-budget experiences that show the power of the cloud.
Gylt is a shorter and somewhat derivative game, though it uses a different tone and decades-worth of genre refinement to ensure that the experience never feels boring. Players control Sally, a young girl who has dedicated her life over the past few months to look for her missing cousin. Unfortunately, she winds up in a twisted version of her town of Bethelwood equipped with only her wits and flashlight and must find her way out. This requires navigating through various labyrinthine buildings with tools such as a flashlight and fire extinguisher to ultimately uncover what exactly caused Sally and her cousin to end up in this alternate world.
If you’ve ever played a Silent Hill game, that premise should sound familiar, but that isn’t a bad thing. Gylt stands out as it is more approachable than most of the games it may be compared to. It still deals with heavy topics like bullying and I was disturbed by some of the enemies, but it’s presented in a way that ensures that its anti-bullying message gets across to players of all ages. The art style is pleasant and confirms that Google Stadia is great for stylized games, though some animations can be a bit clunky and it doesn’t seem to do anything that isn’t possible on PS4, Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch.
As someone who has been bullied, I was quickly able to relate to the characters and understand much of the imagery. While Gylt’s storytelling isn’t exactly subtle, it does handle the topic with more nuance than some other indie games. The world is packed with collectibles, which I recommend getting if you want the best ending, The level design always points you in the right direction without being in your face, which works well to sustain the atmosphere Gylt tries to create.
Gylt’s pace is slow and methodical, which actually a clever way to mask any issues that may arise with Stadia’s streaming. Waiting for a light to focus so it can take out an enemy not only adds to the tension of any given situation but masks any input lag there may be. It is worth noting that I never really ran into streaming issues outside of some occasional frame rate hitching; nonetheless, it is clever for a launch title to include mechanics that would mask these issues if they arise. It is really the only way Gylt would stand out as a launch title, honestly.
Whether you are playing on a Chromecast Ultra, Pixel phone, or in a Chrome browser, Gylt’s mechanics transition well between each style of play. You can sit down and play it all at once in the dark on the Chromecast Ultra and Chrome versions of Stadia, or get through it in bite-sized chunks on a phone. Stadia features a surprisingly similar appeal to Nintendo Switch in that way, and Gylt does a fine job at working in both manners.
The whole experience is ultimately enjoyable, though Gylt’s greatest weakness is that it doesn’t amount to much more than that. This is the kind of game one can glide through without much of a challenge, which conflicts a bit with the horror-game reliant design. While a couple of enemy types can be unsettling the first time you run into them, they can all be dealt with fairly easily. Some situations that want the player to partake in stealth can be breezed through by sprinting and taking out the right enemies with the flashlight or fire extinguisher. This conflicts with the atmosphere of childlike helplessness that Gylt otherwise works so hard to create. The auto-aiming also doesn’t always work well, though it can be turned on and off.
Gylt tells a relatable and emotional tale about bullying via a formula refined by franchises like Silent Hill before it. It can feel a bit airy and derivative as a result, but it’s still a worthwhile experience that should be part of any Google Stadia owner’s library. It may not immediately stand out as the kind of game you can only get on Stadia, but I don’t mind if this is the formula Stadia Games and Entertainment takes with the exclusives they decide to put their full force behind in the future.
In general, the launch of Stadia is quite quaint, with Google planning to expand the cloud-based platform’s feature set over the course of the next year. Because of that, Google’s first-party development studio isn’t ready to release a full game just yet, so Stadia will have to rely on third-party support and interesting exclusives to sustain itself until then. Even if Gylt is atypical when compared to other launch exclusives, it shows that Google is open to supporting experimental indies.
While Google’s current exclusive pipeline of Gylt, Get Packed, and Orcs Must Die! 3 can be looked at as somewhat malnourished, it also shows a bit more variation than other first-party lineups. And if Google Stadia’s future exclusives are just as good, if not better, than Gylt, that is a good sign.