When we were building our Best Games of 2014 list, I argued for Konami’s P.T. valiantly, but ultimately lost out – it’s not a full game, or even a demo really.
But it is an incredible piece on its own, as a game, as a piece of artwork, as a source of endless nightmares.
I’m a huge Silent Hill fan, and I have been since the first game. Because I’m a huge Silent Hill fan, I stopped halfway through Homecoming and didn’t even bother to pick up Downpour. I don’t typically like horror, but Silent Hill‘s unique imagery, Lovecraft-influenced story, and beautiful soundtrack pulled me in. It’s been disappointing to watch the series deteriorate over the years gradually losing its soul as it goes through one developer after another who says they “really get” the series, but clearly just think it looks cool.
I didn’t get to play P.T. until after it was revealed to be a teaser for the upcoming Silent Hills from Kojima Productions, but it’s something I find myself thinking about regularly. I’m comfortable calling it one of the best horror games of the year – if not the best – and one of the most interesting gaming experiences we’ve had in a while.
Unless you’re really quick to nightmares, P.T. is worth checking out.
A quick overview of the story: You’re in an endlessly repeating hallway, proceeding from one end to the other. Sometimes you can walk right down, other times there’s a door in the way, and you have to figure out how to open it (hint, turning the knob is not the answer). As you proceed, you get clues here and there that suggest someone murdered their family – in this house, presumably – and promised to return.
Whether it’s entirely thanks to Kojima Productions’ Fox Engine or due to the very tight quarters provided by P.T., the visuals are truly impressive. Every texture, every surface has been carefully tended to to make it feel real and worn. The old walls, wall fixtures and parquet flooring tell us that this hallway was once part of a really nice, old house. But it’s been a long time since someone cared for it. Dust, dirt, and cigarette ashes form a layer of grime on every surface. Pills and beer bottles give you a peek into how the most recent inhabitants dealt with their problems. A stuffed animal lets you know that those self-medicating adults weren’t the only ones there. If Sony could combine this with their Morpheus headset, it could make for a frighteningly realistic experience.
We haven’t even gotten to the part where things move.
The team behind the game took this lonely hallway and used it as a canvas for some innovative, frightening ideas.
As you progress, things change. A door opens, letting you go into a bathroom that’s somehow even grimier than the hallway. The room holds its own horrifying secret that I don’t want to spoil for you. Lighting and other small details change.
Your only consistent way to interact with the hallway is to walk around and to examine things by zooming in on them. There is no combat, no running, no hiding. This puts a focus on not just exploration, but careful examination. This allows subtle details to become ominous and unnerving. Writing appears where it wasn’t before. A radio clicks on with a news story about the murder.
When there is a big change, it’s absolutely terrifying. Like, “how did your controller end up stuck in the drywall” terrifying. While I don’t want to spoil everything the game has to offer, some have to be talked about.
In one, you hear a crashing sound as glass hits the floor in front of you. If you look at the balcony above, you can see someone just looking down at you, deadly silent. You come back around again and the darkness has been replaced with red lighting. There’s a refrigerator hanging by a chain where the chandelier used to be. Is that blood dripping from it? Wait, did it just move?
Silent Hill 2 is the last time I felt as uncomfortable as P.T. makes me feel.
The game is almost impossible to finish on your own, too. Unless you’re a savant at solving environmental puzzles with almost no clues, you’ll need help. And that’s the idea with this teaser. The project is designed to be social. This is both a great way to socialize a game without begging for Facebook likes and a great promotional tool to get people talking. At release, players were seeing different things, gathering different clues and sharing them; it was social puzzle solving. Players with different options, such as different languages, contributed their own elements. If you had a camera hooked up, that added its own element to the experience as you could, in a small way, talk to the game.
Streaming also contributing to the social element. Watching players freak out was, of course, the initial draw, but it also helped turn the puzzle solving experience not just into something social on Twitter and message boards, but into a live, communal experience.
P.T. isn’t the original first person horror game, but it used the perspective to create a singular, interesting game experience that is at once a technical feat, a terrifying piece of art, and a new kind of social experience. It’s not clear yet how P.T. will influence Silent Hills. Even if it doesn’t, though, it stands on its own as a gaming experience that shouldn’t be missed.