Ultra-Indie Daily Dose: PYLONS Is Truly Shocking
T.W. Burgess Presents: PYLONS has you playing as an ordinary child. Running around outside without a care in the world, you encounter a happy pylon man constructing big beautiful pylons to bring all the power you could ever need to you and your friends. What could go wrong? The game’s runtime is only around 5-10 minutes, so I won’t give up much about the story. But you already know something is up with these pylons because it’s a horror game spotlight. Although this game may not be long, within that short period is a truly incredible horror experience.
There’s more to humor than jokes. A lot of games that attempt to be funny can often fail, sometimes at the expense of the game itself, simply because no one type of humor is for everyone. You can’t make everyone laugh. Sure, there are a ton of games that are funny to a wide audience. Valve’s Portal ruined the internet for upwards of a decade with a joke about cake. But more often than not, for games like Borderlands or Saints Row, the attempt to make a one-size-amuses-all title instead weakens the experience.
When a game narrows its scope of humor, the experience is heightened. There is a world of difference between the childish humor of a singing poop in Conker’s Bad Fur Day and the uncanny swing from death serious to silly in Yakuza. Both are equally valid and hilarious in their own way. But also, the people who find one funny may not be amused by the other.
So it is that T.W. Burgess Presents: PYLONS succeeds by honing in on as narrow a scope of humor as possible: imitating shitty educational games. Looking something like an Atari classic, PYLONS is, on the surface, a game about teaching you about being safe around electrical infrastructure. Perhaps the syzygy of horror game elements aligned and my one specific brain found all this to be really funny, but there’s something brilliant yet difficult to describe about the game’s premise. Maybe because PYLONS taps into something so completely mundane to create such great horror. Or maybe because the mundane object becomes good and truly unsettling.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
The gameplay of PYLONS is fairly simple. The child you play starts each sequence wandering outside and you may explore the area. There are a number of sights to see in your large square neighborhood. Kids at play, stone obelisks at stay, and of course, a number of big beautiful pylons. But trouble is about. You will run into a couple of kids who don’t know or care about the danger of the pylons, and may ask you to potentially put yourself at risk. What will you decide?
What works in PYLONS is that it’s simple and bizarre. As games like Airdorf’s FAITH have shown, graphical quality can play very little into determining whether a game is good or not. Indeed, when it comes to horror, the lower quality can amplify the uncanny feeling. So it is that the blocky PYLONS sprites look weird already, doubly so when the ground is an inky black void.
The visuals are just a small fraction of what makes PYLONS so enjoyable. Taking something as mundane as an electrical pylon and turning it into the focal point of your horror game is what makes the horror genre so great: telling a story subverting your idea of what an everyday object is and should be. After all, Sirenhead is just a loudspeaker on a body, and yet for a minute it was an explosive trend in horror circles. That PYLONS focuses on a big wiry metal tower for their scares is silly and the sincere dialogue of the character in it makes the experience that much funnier. It reminded me of the movie Rubber, the film about a sentient tire that roams around California and makes people explode. On paper it seems too ridiculous to be enjoyable, and yet, when the rubber hits the… when you experience the work for yourself, you realize just how genius it really is.
The unfortunate part of PYLONS, as will many of the indie games we spot our light on, is that there just isn’t enough. The story here is perfectly succinct and complete. But at the same time, I wish there was a little more going on, more lead up to the end, more people to discuss. Of course, the mystery and vagueness of this world helps with the story. But I would absolutely love some more content here.
Additionally, some of the mechanics in PYLON are not as refined or defined as they could have been. There’s no directions, so you might find yourself wandering aimlessly. The area is not all to large, but can still irk you for a bit. There is also a chase sequence near the end. I won’t spoil what it is, as it’s one of the highlights of the game, but there is a mechanic where as you run, you have a chance to encounter something that freezes you in place for a few seconds. The problem here is that thing is invisible until about a half second before it gets you. There’s no way to avoid it except to hope for the best.
How To Fix It:
Like I say just about every week, make some more please. This iteration of PYLONS would make a fantastic prologue to a much more flushed out story. PYLONS only has two large areas to explore. Having more places to explore with more people to interact with and more quests to complete is always a plus. Had I a genie that would grant me one wish in relation to this game specifically, I would want it to be a full city to explore, kind of like an electrical tower centred Earthbound. Of course, this would mean there would have to be a map or some kind of directional mechanics.
As for the mechanics, just make the things not invisible I guess.
Real-life pylons really are freaky. Massive gangly steel structures that cut through the landscape carrying enough power to kill a person instantly, probably 10,000x over. And yet, I would not have considered them something out of the ordinary were it not for PYLONS. That is the power of a horror game. To make the audience reevaluate aspects of their everyday lives is a tremendous thing for a work of art to do.
You can try PYLONS for just $1 on itch.io by clicking here.