At the end of C1, one of the many brutal missions currently available in GTFO, your expedition team will be trapped at the bottom of a long-forsaken botany lab. An orange circle appears on the floor, and everyone needs to stand in it at the same time to fill up a bar at the top of the screen. The circle lazily paths through the damp corridors and stairwells, and the party of four crams together in its borders, staring down iron sights, shooting at anything that moves. An absolute onslaught of horrific aberrations lays siege to your defenses as GTFO demonstrates just how mean it can be. I have watched my comrades crumble at the 98th percentile as a final wave proved too much for our dwindling ammunition. I have watched a friend get trigger happy and wipe the group with an errant team kill in a narrow hallway. I have watched a number of pick-up groups disintegrate by the forth or fifth attempts as it became abundantly clear that our coordination simply wasn’t up to snuff. It is one of the most frustrating trials I’ve endured in a co-op video game – but the more GTFO breaks my heart, the more I’ve developed a dangerous taste for its unwavering cruelty.
Your objectives differ with each level, but most of the time your team will be asked to dredge up some sort of deserted mcguffin from the bedrock and return to safety with everyone in one piece. But unlike its clear inspiration – Left 4 Dead, Payday, and their ilk – GTFO demands an intense, uncompromising degree of execution. There is no scenario where this is a simple shooting gallery – victory is rarely achieved by emptying clips blindly into the horde – instead, it brings to mind the white-knuckle logistics of a tough World of Warcraft dungeon. There are sequences in GTFO where your quartet will need to creep through the muck in total silence, as to not alert the goliaths sleepwalking in your wake. There are twisted, toothy enemies that can wipe your group in nanoseconds; you’ll need to avoid them in total darkness. My party members once spent a good 15 minutes divvying up resources and walling off chokepoints before a particularly elaborate encounter, only to die almost instantly.
The difficulty is going to turn off a lot of people who come looking to play casually, but I greatly enjoyed GTFO’s willingness to punish me, over and over again, until I produced results. So many shooters require the slimmest amounts of brainpower, but here I was forced to do something I haven’t done in years: wander into a random Discord channel, put out an LFG beacon, and join a voice channel with total strangers in the hopes that they might be the kind of dedicated teammates I needed.
It’s an old-school sensibility. We’ve watched games become increasingly streamlined over the years, with even the likes of Monster Hunter losing some of its trademark impenetrability. GTFO is a loud, proud step in the reverse direction, and that is perhaps its greatest strength among those of us who appreciate it. It’s exemplified by the fact that, just to get oriented in each zone, one party member will need to jump onto one of the terminals littered around the compound, log in, and use a DOS command prompt to, say, locate health packs or uncover a keycard. On top of that, there is no generous signposting in the complex; instead, each player shares a map that can be drawn on it with their cursor, as if they’re stewing over a midnight D&D session. And I love how the whole party needs to count down from three and connect their melee strikes at the exact same time to silently topple some of the larger enemies. You hold your breath, make sure it’s dead, and move on to the next one. There is something strangely intimate about drawing a hasty escape route on the map, or hugging the walls in a smoky room, inches from the dozing monsters. GTFO makes it clear that there is no savior coming for the rescue, and that your only option is to have faith in the party. For better or worse, our fate is in our hands.
This emphasis on analog teamwork offers GTFO a wonderful sense of tactility. The firefights are fine, but the best moments come when you and your friends are back at the drawing board after a couple of wipes. (Should we place a sentry on the eastern flank? Maybe our mines were off-center.) Due to its breadth of options in weapons and equipment, GTFO never made me feel like I was groping around in the dark looking for one specific prescribed solution.
That is not to say that GTFO doesn’t have any modern FPS trappings. Each level is laden with limited-use perks that can be deployed on future expeditions, and all of them offer some rote boosts to typical FPS attributes; damage output, revive speed, and ammo supply to name a few. I also unlocked a handful of cosmetics that outfitted my greyscale shocktrooper with nearly imperceptible costume alterations. (Notably, though, GTFO is a 100% microtransaction-free game.) All of this stuff felt pretty tacked-on and weirdly contrary to the rest of the hardcore GTFO ethos. This is a video game where I might need to hold off a band of mutants with a speed-dampening foam gun while a buddy bangs codewords into a computer. It’s a little weird to return to the lobby, where we can all strap on our seven percent increases to our projectile resistance.
A game like this lives and dies on how much content is available, and to its credit there are currently a healthy 10 missions available in GTFO. However, developer 10 Chambers Collective makes the audacious choice to simply throw out all of its hard work with every major update and scrap all of the existing levels, replacing them with new ones. (So, when GTFO gets its next patch, all of the levels I’ve played will disappear forever in favor of an entirely new campaign.) That ephemerality adds to GTFO’s sense of mystery. It’s eye-opening to mingle with veterans who can regale you with war stories from past crusades
GTFO Review Screenshots
The world 10 Chambers has created is relentlessly, almost hilariously oppressive. From what I could glean, you’re cast as a convict frozen in some sort of permanent stasis. We are defrosted only to accomplish the worst, most suicidal contracts conceivable. So no, GTFO doesn’t have an arresting story, and what is there is mostly relayed through the worst video game technique in existence: stray voiceovers emanating from an intercom. (To be clear, some players are passionate about the lore, and the studio has experimented with some ARG-ish methods to showcase its universe.) That said, I was impressed by the plot curveballs 10 Chambers managed to deploy in some of its gameplay sequences. Almost all of the action takes place in the complex, but without giving too much away, your party might find themselves spirited away to more colorful arenas if you interact with the right doodad. It’s a welcome change of pace from the chronic concrete bleakness, and proof that the studio is switching up its own formula as GTFO finally exits its early access period after two years.
GTFO’s 1.0 release also marks some of its first overtures to a mainstream audience. For the first time ever, we get some conservative checkpoints; your progress will no longer be fully deleted after a team wipe. (That’s a controversial change among some diehards, as you might imagine!) The other big addition are the bots you can staff your party with if you don’t have a full squad of trusted friends ready to go at all times, and I found the A.I. to be surprisingly competent in my runs. But don’t let those compromises with accessibility fool you: GTFO remains a game built for a group of human beings in constant communication. In fact, the main menu contains a link to the official Discord, which is good because the built-in matchmaking system is pretty hit-or-miss. (I had no luck with it myself.)
Naturally, that means GTFO is subject to all of the social annoyances parceled with so many cooperative games. These levels are long — some more than two hours total — and it really sucks when someone drops out halfway through. (Though players can join mid-mission in a pinch.) It’s even more aggravating when a slight tang of lingering early access jank rears its ugly head; one of my parties actually had to call it a night after a mandatory terminal went on the fritz. GTFO is already a maddening game, but incidents like that, which are in no way your own fault, can make it downright exasperating. Oftentimes, I found myself pining for some sort of save function so my party could cut our losses. By 2am, it became clear that the boys and I were not going to finish the harsh finale of C1. Would it really violate the GTFO doctrine to allow us a chance to return the next morning and give it another shot without starting from the beginning?
That said, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a game that so brilliantly put me on a highwire. By the time I reached GTFO’s advanced missions, I found that my own neural instincts were being affected. My voice was reduced to a whisper as the party ventured into another dingy chamber, teeming with monsters that could send the whole swarm after us if stirred from their slumber. I knew they couldn’t hear me through the screen, but it still didn’t feel right to speak up. That level of immersion can only be achieved when four players are ensconced in total blackness, scribbling instructions on a map, smelling a wipe around every corner. It comes from the knowledge that GTFO will break your spirit and mash you into a pulp – and that only then will you feel alive.