GTFO Early Access Review
Each expedition in GTFO begins with a startling descent into a labyrinth of subterranean rooms called The Complex. Navigating its creepy industrial corridors using an interactive map and computer terminals with a team of four total players is a lot of fun thanks to the tense atmosphere and puzzling stealth encounters. While I did spot a handful of reused rooms during my frantic crawls through its hour-or-so-long expeditions I was impressed with the clever use of color, volumetric fog, and lighting (or the lack thereof) that not only made the recycled rooms feel like a new area, but also ramped up the intensity and effectively sold the illusion that I was descending further into the complex.
Enemy and supply locker spawns are randomized, but the layout of the level itself is not, which is a good thing. The hand-crafted nature of the expeditions (especially in the later levels) means that even if you lose you’ll be walking away with lessons you can apply to your next attempt… and lose you will. GTFO is a hard game, and you can expect to fail back to the lobby more often than not. Without a progression system to pick away at, the incentive to retry content at this point is simply for the joy of beating it. Like the old days of Left 4 Dead, I found bragging rights to be entirely sufficient, since the journey itself was a good one. Completing the final expedition left me with a prideful sense of accomplishment, even if I didn’t have a new gun or hat to show for it.
GTFO offers very little in the way of storytelling, but as a prisoner forced to explore the depths of some unknown mega-structure being figuratively and literally in the dark feels appropriate. There’s enough detail in the environment to feed an appetite for additional lore, like the barely discernible human features on the face of a sleeper, or that the massive hole you’re dropped down at the start of each mission appears to have been made by something tunneling upwards. But the answers to these questions aren’t found in GTFO… at least not yet.
I’ve never loved the idea of sneaking past enemies that could otherwise make for fun targets in a co-op shooter, but stealth feels right at home in GTFO for many reasons. First, there are enough supplies like health, ammo, and refills for your tools scattered around every expedition to allow for at least a few disastrous mistakes and still recover. Secondly, you’ll still get plenty of use out of your guns from defending alarm-triggering security doors and reactors. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the monstrous inhabitants of the complex, called “sleepers,” seem tailor-made to be crushed in the dark… and also scare the shit out of you.
Every sleeper is effectively its own little game of “red light, green light.” They glow sporadically to sense what’s in the darkness, pulse violently if they catch you moving or come into contact with a flashlight, and mob you if you’re careless enough to keep moving after that. It’s a simple enough concept to grasp in seconds, yet remains challenging and fun as you push further into the complex thanks to some welcome new variables introduced along the way.
Some enemies may be huddled together and wake each other up unless dispatched simultaneously, giant sleepers up the stakes and are often best avoided, and a wandering monster called the scout will spawn extra waves in addition to raising a panic-inducing alarm if they detect you with their groping tendrils. What I love about the puzzle that each new room presents is that there’s always more than one right answer and there’s usually some leeway to bend the rules in your favor. For instance, you don’t always have to wait for teammates to deal with neighboring foes if you’re fast enough, and you can use your flashlight to synchronize the pulsing of a large group in order to sneak by.
The only major criticism I have of the sleepers is that the range at which they are aware of the deaths of their allies feels inconsistent. Once I figured out that glowing enemies are more sensitive to nearby stealth kills this became less of an issue, but even armed with that knowledge I still found the results of my assassinations to be less than intuitive at times.
You won’t encounter every enemy GTFO has to offer in the first few hours, but its creative reuse of assets is the main thing that keeps the six levels covered in this review from being straight-up repetitive. I have little doubt that this is merely a symptom of early access, but there’s no question that GTFO is still in desperate need of additional enemy variety, unique environments, and mission archetypes. One bold move the developers plan to make is to completely swap out these six levels, collectively called Rundown #001, for new ones in the future. Which should, in theory, keep things fresh.
The general rule of GTFO is that safety costs resources, while risk begets reward. As a result, there are meaningful choices for your team to make around every corner and most are fun, even if not all are fruitful. For instance, it’s risky to melee a scout, but if it pays off it will allow your team to continue undetected. It’s safer to snipe the scout, but to do so you’ll have to use scarce ammo to fight the rest of the room. Freeze a giant at the cost of hardening C-Foam and pick it apart like an ice sculpture, or have you squad wind up and kneecap the bastard but risk getting pummeled. In fact, whole sections of each expedition are entirely optional, but making a b-line for the objective (assuming you can figure out where it is) usually leaves your team low on supplies – and when the ammo runs out there’s nothing left to do but die.
Annoyingly, you can’t combine partially used stacks of supplies like healing items or tossable glow sticks, which feels archaic for a 2019 shooter. Similarly, fall damage is brutally punishing but serves no clear purpose because platforming isn’t prevalent.
IGN’s Top 25 Modern PC Games
Before departing on an expedition you’ll be able to customize your loadout by choosing between eight weapons, five tools, and four aesthetically distinct hammers. GTFO’s current arsenal is a bit messy in its execution, though. The DMR, for instance, has a limited ammo supply and therefore high damage theoretically, but doesn’t always kill a small enemy in a single shot to the head. The SMG isn’t an ineffective weapon but its recoil pattern just doesn’t feel impactful, like wrestling with a weak garden hose. And while I love taking the sniper to cleanly deal with scouts, the fact that its spartan ammunition doesn’t overpenetrate even small sleepers means that its application elsewhere feels wasted. There are some winners here though: the pistol and revolver both feel great and work wonders! Things are much more consistent on the tool front where the sentries, C-Foam launcher, mine deployer, and nifty enemy-sensing bioscanner all have their uses and will need to be used in conjunction with one another to survive the complex.
Coordinating loadouts with your squad is important, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to teamplay. GTFO succeeds phenomenally at presenting an enormity of reasons to communicate and work together. Syncing up hammer hits, relaying enemy locations to your squad with the bioscanner, resupplying one another, and yelling at each other to stop moving RIGHT NOW are just a few examples that justify the use of voice communications. It’s a pity, then, that GTFO has none in-game as of yet, but the developers have provided a solution in the form of nifty in-game Discord functionality. You can copy a lobby code and send it to a friend on Discord, and their GTFO client will automatically detect the code in the clipboard and display a prompt to join in-game.
This, when used in conjunction with GTFO’s official Discord server, proved to be an excellent alternative to in-game voice communications and matchmaking, even if it’s not as smooth as an in-game solution would be. What’s more, I found myself more inclined to work through a manually assembled team’s problems after a defeat instead of simply leaving since I had spent a few minutes putting the squad together. Call me crazy, but as a result I prefer hand-picking teammates vetted through chat to the anonymity of matchmaking. Which you’ll need to do, because if you’d rather go it alone you’re simply out of luck in GTFO. While I’m not fool enough to claim that it’s impossible, you’d have to be some kind of god to complete any of these expeditions alone.