If E3 this year was any indication of the near future of video games: Co-op multiplayer is going to be a bit of a theme for a while. The stories announcement that GTFO is officially 1.0 at The Game Awards last night is a major continuation of that trend. The game has had a successful run in early access for the past two years with the original announcement also being at The Game Awards in 2019. With the previous five years before that of secret development that makes this launch 7 years in the making.
This past month the team at 10 Chambers (a studio consisting of developers who previously created Payday 1 and 2) had us over to the Unity offices to take a look at the updates they have been working on for GTFO version 1.0. We got to go hands-on with a couple of missions and talk with the development team about their thoughts on going gold. Here we’re going to go into what we saw at the event and what I experienced playing the launch version of GTFO.
A brief bit of explanation for those of you that have not been following the lead up to the game’s launch: GTFO is a first-person co-op horror stealth shooter (try saying that ten times fast) that has been on Steam in early access since December of 2019. The narrative has been kept purposefully mysterious. What has been revealed in pieces here and there, is that you are a group of prisoners being held captive by a mysterious shadow organization that had been running a complex mining and research operation near a mysterious alien artifact of some kind that was discovered deep underground. At some point things went pear-shaped and the operation was evacuated during some kind of violent panic.
Now the cavernous underground facility known as The Complex is abandoned except for sleeping monsters that attack in a vicious rage whenever they detect movement or sound. For reasons that have not yet been revealed, the four prisoners you play as are being held captive and awoken over and over again to fight their way through different sectors of the complex labyrinth so they can, well, GTFO. But the squad never truly escapes and instead wakes up some time later being sent down the mineshaft to start again. All while being led along and antagonized by The Warden, an entity whose exact nature we aren’t yet privy to.
10 Chambers told me that they are purposefully keeping narrative revelations to a minimum, choosing instead to slowly dole out bits and pieces to try and let players work together to parse it together. So far, that has resulted in a pretty active YouTube community of code crackers. But I found that the game plays plenty well without a large amount of story explanation. I will say, as does a notice from the developers on Steam, this game is very hard. It really does feel like the same team that made Payday 2 branched off and decided to really try for a game that’s difficult and dark. You need to work together and move slowly and carefully to survive. There’s purposefully not enough ammo or health, and you don’t get more from combat. This means you’re using stealth and your melee weapons to kill sleeping monsters so you can save your resources, which you then just burn through when there is an inevitable alarm that goes off after opening a marked door. Between searching for scarce gear and using computer terminals to find items you need to open the next door, the levels can be long, and they are also procedurally generated so it’s something new each time. Think of it as a kind of very difficult horror themed take on the same type of game as Deep Rock Galactic.
More Options and More Challenges
Everything that is being added to the final game can be broken down into whole new gameplay options and quality of experience enhancements. I’ll talk about the options first. The first thing a player will interact with compared to the previous version is the enhanced “Persistent Clothing.” Previously your player characters’ look was very basic. Granted the helmet designs are especially eye-catching and brutal as you can see in the game’s advertising material. But now you can unlock and edit your full character’s look right alongside your loadout. The game doesn’t have a traditional class system, but you can build your loadout to fulfill specific jobs for your team’s playthrough. It should be interesting to see people adjust their clothing to match their role in the squad as well. I came to like the bulky hooded aesthetic. But we only had access to a handful of options in our demo. I liked the feature and I think people are going to like the options for designing unique characters. Though I do think it takes away from the horror of the game a little to have cool customized armor. The options are all still in that dark brutal aesthetic so I think it is a good compromise.
Bring the Hammer Down, or Alternatively, Bring the Spear, Knife or Club Down
Considering the scarcity of ammo in GTFO, the melee combat is especially important. Carefully taking out the enemies without waking them is a major concern, as is killing solitary enemies without wasting ammo. To this effect, all the players have thus far been given hammers to use as melee weapons. Starting with 1.0, that repertoire will be expanded to include a Spear, Knife, and a Club. They all do the same basic thing but with slight differences. The Spear is slow but has a long range of attack and does high damage. The knife is quick and low damage but has the added benefit that you can sprint around while charging up your attacks. They all are available without any additional purchase and add another layer of strategy to your character load out. I personally found that I liked the spear but then again I always love a spear in games. The feel of the different weapons is very much what you would expect from them and they don’t operate in a way that’s overly foreign from other games, even if they have been made particular for this experience.
Flying Demons in the Nth Demon-tion
Two other major gameplay features that are being introduced are Dimensions and flying enemies. Both of these are ways that the developers are planning on introducing variety into the procedurally generated worlds. Let’s talk about flying enemies first, as they are going to be easier to explain based on what I saw. So far all the enemies have been ground -based. There has been some verticality but it has been derived from player movement with the platforms and ladders instead of the enemies themselves. It is something to see how adding creatures flying around can change the dynamic of a fight and change the strategies you have to employ. Unfortunately due to how the schedule of the day developed, I wasn’t able to see much of the flying creatures but what I did see showed them making it more important to adjust for height and not just direction before setting off a door alarm. Which was definitely the intent the developers were going for.
Dimensions on the other hand, I think has potential to completely blow this game open in popularity. It has the chance of being a major selling point for the game if it unfolds the way it looks like it will. So as I have said before, The Complex is being run by this shadowy figure called The Warden. The Warden seems to be the one who puts together these increasingly dangerous challenges for you, again the narrative is being left vague for now. Anyway, it appears that The Warden has found another way to torture his captives. By activating these high tech dimensional shifters in the level suddenly the four of you all share a vivid hallucination (hologram? are actually transported to a different dimension?). Suddenly rather than running and sneaking through a mining research facility you are trying to escape a jungle or survive a sandstorm. We only got a short look at what form these might take but it was easily the thing that most excited me of what all they showed.
A Nip Here and a Tuck There Make the game Leaner, Cleaner, and Tight.
On top of these four major changes, there are a handful of smaller ones that are being introduced that will affect the game in smaller ways, but I think still significant ways. All of them help with the accessibility of this being a co-op game where you really need other players to get the full experience.
The first is that they are introducing AI bots to fill in the empty slots on a team. Currently any empty spots would stay empty if you couldn’t find someone else. But with 1.0 you have the option to fill out your team with computer players. This means that people flying solo have the option to just play with bots instead of trying to matchmake. I didn’t have a chance to play with the bots but I was told that they have put a lot of time into them and are excited to roll them out. Players are getting to experience them right now so I’m sure we’re going to start hearing opinions on how well they function. There have also been general improvements to how matchmaking works to make it easier to fill out a team with humans if that’s your preference (as I think it should be in this game).
Easing the Burden of Communication
Along with that, there are two communication enhancements that intends to ease the burden of trying to communicate with randoms online. One is that there are now options for in-game squawks you can select for your team. Meaning that if you’re playing online and somebody who doesn’t have a microphone joins your game you can still communicate with them via a chat wheel that has your character yell out various prompts to communicate what you’re trying to say. The other feature is actually a feature within a feature in this communication wheel. The game will translate these squawks to your teammates’ native languages. So, I, as an English speaker, could communicate to Spanish and French speaking teammates at the same time. It’s something that smooths barriers and opens up multiplayer so you don’t have to worry about regionality as much, which for this game is a very good thing and assuming it works could be something the industry as a whole could learn from.
A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down
Probably the most significant of these smaller features is the inclusion of checkpoint doors. Now, they are optional and if you want to keep the game as hardcore as possible you can leave them off. Normally when the whole team dies you have to start the whole mission over. With checkpoint doors activated however, the game will save a checkpoint as you progress past certain doors and will take the squad back there upon death instead of having to restart the whole mission. It’s a small way for the team to try and make the game just a smidge more accessible without lowering the whole difficulty for players that love that challenge. In my time with the game I grew to feel that I don’t know how long I could play in one sitting if I had to restart every time we died. Frankly we died a lot. So I’m excited for the choice.
One Last Thing Before I GTFO Myself
In speaking with the team at 10 Chambers. The topic of continuing the Rundown System naturally came up. This has been their name for large content updates. They told me that they would continue to update the game and that they are committed to the future of GTFO. This isn’t likely to surprise fans of their work since at the previous studio; Payday 2 had a huge amount of content packs released after its initial launch.
The 1.0 edition of GTFO is available now on Steam, and we have more coverage of the game coming up in our review, and a sit down interview where we ask some pertinent questions players might be wondering about since the game was announced.