I cannot stress enough how gosh darn much I hate horror games. I can’t stand the feeling of suspense while knowing there’s something around the corner. I’m pretty sure if anyone ever tried to make me play something like PT or Outlast I would perish on the spot. And yet, spending a little time with early GFTO code somehow becomes one of my favourite gaming sessions of the year.
The premise of GTFO is ambiguous. You’re a prisoner, one of four, but all you really know is that against your will, you will be lowered into an underground facility by a mysterious presence called the Warden. Once there, the Warden will tell you your objective. This could be finding ID cards, researching a part of the facility, or something else.
You also know you aren’t alone: up to three teammates can join you for the mission, and then there are the zombie-like monsters lurking in the depths. You need to complete your objective and then *ahem* GTFO. The horror aspect of GTFO, then, comes not from a fear of the unknown but the absolute certainty that one false move could end you and your team’s lives.
Sorties are known as Rundowns, and the essence of the game. It’s currently the one way in which to experience the world of GTFO, and it keeps it fresh and clean.
The levels of the Rundown you tackle are so deeply challenging that the smallest mistake could be catastrophic. And each time you play a level, although the environment may be the same, the positioning and details of the enemies you may encounter are different. Small mistakes and difficult levels with small amounts of ammo mean even pros won’t blast through these areas anywhere near as fast as you may think. According to the devs, only a small percentage of players actually completed the alpha – less than 2% in fact, which is partly due to the Rundown’s nature.
Rundowns are sort of like raids. These time-limited events both vary in content and length depending on how many levels there are available. One might consist of two or three levels and be available for a short time, for example, while another could be a load of levels and stick around for a month or longer. Either way, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Each level begins with you strapped to what looks like a terrible Thorpe Park ride, looking into the faces of your team. You’re then dropped into the lower levels of hell as you listen to your character struggle to breathe. And then you’re in – your ride drops you off and the Warden tells you what’s needed.
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Immediately the controls feel familiar – it’s an FPS, sure, but one with blood-red sprinkles on top. The map is yet to be filled in but you can draw on it to explain to your team what your next moves should be. You have a flashlight – only to be used when you’re sure danger doesn’t lie ahead as the sleeping monsters are sensitive to light, sound, and movement – and a heavy mallet. It’s advisable to keep your gun holstered unless absolutely necessary – hammers will kill enemies quietly if you can get close enough to a zombie without them sensing your presence.
To help with that, one of the team is armed with a biotracker. It shows enemies through walls and around you as small white dots, and is great for checking what’s behind the door you’re about to open, or tagging the enemies coming for you. However, it’s a massive exercise in trust: trusting that your teammate is right when they say that there are only a few enemies on the other side of the door rather than many. It makes all the difference. Ordinarily, you might think that knowing where enemies are would make the game easier, but the terror of it all comes from knowing how precise your movements must be, and how unpredictable human error is.
The first time my team tries a level, we fail. Partly because we were still getting used to the controls and the movement, but partly because GTFO is pretty hardcore. You mess up? It doesn’t forget it. You can’t just be a good shot, you have to be good at stealth, puzzle-solving, and communication. It’s all about balance.
To get the most out of the game, you’re going to need to play it with a full team. The developers know of a few players completing levels solo, but realistically that would be a frustrating endeavour and you’d miss all the joys of team communication – and, indeed, miscommunication.
I’m certainly up for the challenge, and looking forward to playing more GTFO when I get the opportunity. Take a look at GTFO’s Steam page if you think you might be, too.