Way back in February of this year, we published a small feature on the faults and foibles of modern-day survival horrors entitled: ‘Keeping Survival Horror Alive.’
The short of it, was that we felt the genre had lost its way in recent years, with series like Resident Evil being a prime example of the shift in focus, from nightmare inducing scares to action-oriented set pieces. 2013’s Outlast seemed like a step back in the right direction however, and now the recent Gamescom has revealed to us a new, triple-A project of the same brown-trouser-inducing calibre.
Released for free on the PSN store last week, P.T. is a demo of sorts, from the fictitious ‘7780s Studio’. Now, we won’t waste any time attempting to keep P.T’s final reveal under wraps. With the Internet being what it is, most of us had heard that the ‘Playable Teaser’ was actually an announcement for a new Silent Hill game well before we had a chance to download and try it for ourselves. But what made the news all the more exciting was that Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear fame), and Hollywood director Guillermo del Toro were the two behind the project’s helm. Furthermore, Walking Dead fan-favourite, Norman Reedus was to perform in the game’s lead role.
Determined to immerse you as quickly as possible, P.T throws you straight into the action with no menu, start screen, or even explanation of controls. Not that there’s really a need for one as there are only two inputs you’ll use on your pad: the analogue stick to move, and the R3 button to zoom in.
In an unusual change from previous Silent Hills, gameplay takes place in first person, and begins with your character waking up in a prison-like room accompanied only by two mating cockroaches. Your cell mates soon scuttle away however, and you’re left facing a wooden door. Stepping through takes you out onto the ground floor corridor of an ordinary suburban house, and it’s here that the rest of the story plays out.
Whilst a single L-shaped interior might not sound like the most expansive game area, P.T.’s central mechanic is what really keeps the world interesting. Reaching the end of the corridor presents you with another door and walking through it puts you right back at the start. Only with each lap of the infinitely repeating hallway, things change. And they start to get weird, fast.
After your first loop, a locked door which you pass by begins to bang and rattle from the other side, before later swinging open completely. It turns out to be the bathroom, and after stepping inside, it becomes apparent that you aren’t in there alone. A news broadcast on the nearby radio alludes to what might have happened to the building’s residents, and from what you can gather, a brutal murder has taken place. The victim is understandably a little pissed off, and is determined to take out her frustrations out on you.
Terrifying as the situation may be, P.T won’t simply allow you to sprint hysterically through to the exit, as the door at the end will remain locked until you’ve fulfilled certain criteria for the lap that you’re on. Cue some of the most obscure ‘puzzles’ in gaming. Early loops of the house require little effort to continue and curious players will likely find themselves meeting the requirements to proceed without even trying. You may simply have to look at a certain object or zoom in on an item to trigger the ‘click’ sound of the exit unlocking. But the further though the cycles you proceed the more intricate the requirements become, and you’ll eventually find yourself stuck in the same iteration of the corridor for an uncomfortable length of time.
There are points though, where this begins to work against P.T’s favour. Familiarity breeds contempt, and after being stuck on one particular loop for too long and exhausting all the possible scares it can throw at you, the situation can become frustrating to comical effect. There’s one particular puzzle towards the demo’s end, which involves triggering a baby’s laugh three times before you can continue. We’d sussed how to induce the first one, but had to resort to looking online for a solution to laughs two and three.
Rumour had it that making noise down the PS4’s microphone would produce the result we needed, but by this time our immersion was so broken, that we were happily trash-talking the house’s j-horror like resident whenever she appeared in the hallway.
That said, it takes a good while to stumble upon every last truly terrifying moment it’s possible to be hit with. All of which are produced with staggering effect thanks to some excellent audio/visual design. Making use of the MGSV Fox Engine, P.T.’s lighting is sublimely terrifying, and the detail in the house makes for an all-too-believable environment. The sounds are what make up the majority of the scares however, with every floorboard creak and ‘Grudge’-like gurgle successfully standing your hairs on-end.
Unfortunately, we know very little about what the final Silent Hills project will end up looking like. Kojima has been typically cagey with details, but has confirmed that it will be his own studio, Kojima Productions, who are developing it (rather than simply overseeing it.) The demo’s absence from the Xbox Live market place suggests the finished product will be at the very least, a timed exclusive for Sony. And Silent Hills may even be a reference to more than one new game, perhaps even across different generations (a-la Assassin’s Creed Unity and Rogue.)
For now, we can only speculate. But what we can say for certain is that P.T. alone is one of the most terrifying survival horror experiences in recent memory, and an undeniably effective marketing campaign for whatever it is that Kojima and Del Torro have in store for us.
Coming in at around twenty-five minutes to complete (including time stuck on puzzles) P.T. offers a tantalising glimpse into the potential future of survival horror and a return to form that fans have long been crying out for.