This article originally appeared on VICE US.
All the fancy technology in the world doesn’t mean a thing if there aren’t good games to play, which helped to explain a lot of the head scratching leading up to the launch of Google’s game streaming service, Stadia. Even if Stadia worked as advertised—and based on my week spent with Stadia, it largely does—there weren’t going to be many games to stream at launch. And for whatever reason, Google decided to forgo the most common way to entice players onto a new and unproven platform: exclusive games you cannot play anywhere else.
Well, except Gylt, a charming and occasionally spooky adventure about trying to find your missing cousin, and Stadia’s lone exclusive. Gylt is one of only a handful of exclusives games Google has announced so far, alongside Orcs Must Die 3 and Get Packed. None are the kind of glitzy games traditionally trotted out to capture people’s attention.
It certainly didn’t capture mine at first. While playing with Stadia, I spent most of my time with games like Mortal Kombat 11, Red Dead Redemption 2, Destiny 2, etc. But once I’d filed my piece, I turned back towards Gylt, a game that’s gone largely unnoticed. That it’s been ignored is not altogether surprising; it’s a low-key game from the developers of Rime and The Sexy Brutale that does nothing to showcase anything unique about a game exclusively available via streaming. It’s just a video game you stream—only on Stadia.
It’s a spooky game—but only to a point. It’s not full of jump scares, and at its worst, is only likely to make you tense up a bit. A close friend has been missing long enough for people to give up on finding them, and while exploring the woods, putting up missing posters, when some mean kids show up and come after you. While escaping, you head back into town, only to find that things have...changed. It’s like an earthquake happened while you were gone, with the roads chewed up and various buildings in complete disrepair. It’s permanently nighttime, and there are monsters walking around. Quickly, you hear the sound of your cousin’s panicked voice, and set out to rescue them.
Your main interaction in Gylt is through a flashlight that can flip into a powerful high-beam mode that’s capable of attacking the glowing weak points on enemies, so long as there’s enough battery left. Gylt presents a stealth game, where you’re supposed to weave through AI patterns and take advantage of noise-making objects to avoid tackling enemies head-on, but you don’t need to play it that way. The game provides enough battery juice to take out nearly every enemy you come across, and there’s so many health packs scattered about (presented here in the form of inhalers) that any scrap you get into has little lasting impact. There’s a stamina meter tied to running that you burn through extremely fast, but because you can spend the whole game just zapping whatever you find, its limitations are muted.
The flimsy, ultimately unnecessary, and yet still sometimes satisfying combat (because hitting big, glowing weakpoints remains oddly gratifying) is Gylt in a nutshell. There’s not much of a story, but there are a lot of collectibles! The enemy design is occasionally creepy, but the AI patterns are predictable to the point of boredom, undercutting any sense of a threat. It’s fine in the way that a Netflix recommendation that’s finely tuned to your specific tastes is fine, and you’re willing to accept something mediocre because it’s exactly what you enjoy. I enjoy walking around spooky Silent Hillish towns, I enjoy sneaking around weird monstrosities, and I enjoy entering a room with a dark flashlight and seeing what’s hiding.
This is exactly my shit, but I’m only sort-of sold on it. I’m probably going to end up finishing it, but recommending it? I dunno.
It’d be one thing if Gylt was part of Stadia’s subscription service, Stadia Pro, but it’s not. Google is selling Gylt for $30. One of the reasons I enjoy trolling through Netflix and Amazon Video’s trash heaps is because dipping in and out is half the fun, and every once and awhile, you find a gem. You’ve already paid the subscription. There’s a similar appeal with Xbox’s Game Pass service, which has a mixture of your traditional big budget games, indie darlings, and games you’ve never heard of, or wouldn’t have paid to try.
It’s also a weird game to choose as Stadia’s lone exclusive; if Stadia struggles with anything, it’s scenes in the dark, and Gylt is absolutely full of them. You spend the majority of your time in Gylt wandering dark rooms and hallways, which often results in compression artifacts that muddy up the image in a very noticeable way. It was never enough to impact the actual play experience, but it’s not a best-in-class showcase, either, and Stadia needs more of those.
Look, Gylt isn’t a very good game, but it doesn’t deserve the crushing weight of expectations that comes from being the sole exclusive meant to help sell Stadia. It’s fine! It’s fine. If, at some point, Google adds it to their subscription service, and you find yourself looking for something spooky but not too spooky on a stormy night, you could do worse than Gylt.