Wow, this has been a while. I haven’t done a preview of an Early Access game since the phenomenal Hyper Gods. Sadly, that game hasn’t been updated since last October and has been, seemingly, abandoned by its developers. I hope development resumes at some point, but such are the risks of EA. This did not deter me from trying out GTFO, which hit the Steam frontpage a week ago. This and the constant streams that popped up of people playing it enticed me to get my friends together and try our luck.
The premise of GTFO is that players are prisoners forced to explore an abandoned facility and deal with the monstrous creatures within while trying to achieve some overarching objectives. Levels aren’t truly random, but the available missions are regularly swapped out and each session changes up where items and monsters spawn in.
The game is meant for 4-player co-op and advertises itself to hardcore gamers looking for a real challenge. This, I can confirm, is not an exaggeration. My friends and I spent literal hours retrying the same missions on the game’s very first tier of difficulty.
Before descending into the facility, players select their loadout consisting of a primary weapon, a special weapon, a melee weapon, and a tool. The differences between these are reduced to a list of traits (such as semi-auto or full-auto) rather than giving you the precise statistics, which made it difficult to figure out my ideal kit. Especially for the melee weapons, which all have the exact same traits and look identical. Once in the facility, you can also scavenge around for extra items like syringes, medkits, ammunition, or single-use tools like a lock melter.
We quickly got in the loop of scanning for potential enemies in a room, eliminating the threats, scavenging everything of value and moving on to the next. The tools are especially fun, as one guy would have a device that could find and tag enemies, another had a foam gun that could seal doors shut, and I rocked a little turret that could guard choke points.
With coordination and precision, a lot of combat encounters with the game’s monsters can be avoided, which is a necessity because ammo is scarce and items like medkits only restore a pitiful amount of health. We wanted to avoid full-on combat as much as possible to conserve what little we had to work with. Even then, we had to deal with doors that had alarms on them, which cause panic events where you need to deal with waves of enemies while the game puts security zones randomly around the room. Stand in those and you deactivate the alarm, but this means splitting up and potentially getting picked off as the monsters swarm you.
Another reason to avoid big firefights is that they just weren’t that fun. I tend to like games like this, such as Left 4 Dead and Vermintide, but the action in this game just isn’t that good, whether you are stealthily clearing rooms or going in guns blazing.
Stealth doesn’t work that well. Enemies and other players don’t occupy physical space, so while you are trying to melee enemies you just clip right through them. The animations for hitting foes is awkward and even a fully-charged hit right on the head isn’t always a guarantee of success. These problems persist in shoot-outs, where the fast, agile monsters will dash around the room and flat-out move through you to attack the player behind you.
The game’s claim to difficulty comes from the fact that enemies are many, they are very fast, they are durable, and they hit for a ton of damage. They have no real weaknesses; they can swarm you with numbers and take you down in seconds, and even if you gun them down, blow off their heads, they can still get right back up after pretending to be dead for a second. The special enemies were a particular nuisance, with the bigger version of the monsters hitting players for 60% of their health with animations that are difficult to read.
Each mission is an endurance test and I didn’t find that particularly engaging. The boring scenery and generic horror enemies didn’t do much for me either and my team already got bored of the game after an hour or three. Particularly damning to the game is how many activities feel like they are intended for solo players. 4 people can’t simultaneously deal with a mere 1 or 2 enemies in a room, 4 people can’t simultaneously do hacking mini-games or work computer terminals that have you type out commands to find your way around, 4 people can’t simultaneously sneak around a room with an enemy that sets off alarms.
We were constantly waiting for 1 player to finish up some lengthy task so we could move on and only felt like we were in a team-effort during the panic events that still insist on splitting people up. And every time your team wipes, you get to enjoy a loud screamer blasting from your speakers or headphones. No thanks.
GTFO is kind-of interesting and ambitious. It’s still early in development, so problems like the clipping issues and dopey animations for melee attacks are likely to be temporary. However, I didn’t enjoy the game’s idea of what makes gameplay difficult and its lackluster stealth mechanics, mediocre presentation, and fiddling with stuff like hacking mini-games or those terminals turned every session with it into a slog.