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It’s not often that a game’s teaser warrants its own review, yet the new Playable Teaser for Silent Hills – at first known only as P.T – has somehow managed to become a game in its own right, separate from the game it is there to promote.
P.T was released by 7780s Studio, a pseudonym for Kojima Productions, in the hope that players would be misled into believing a small, independent company had created the game. This was to mask its connections with Silent Hills, both to keep the project under the radar for a little longer, and to promote a sense of mystery due the lack of information we are left with in its publicity. Now that the former reason has eroded, one might expect the latter to fade too, but if it has, it is only to be replaced by a mixture of excitement and apprehension for what is to come in the game P.T has preceded.
The teaser opens with some simple text: ‘Watch out. The gap in the door… it’s a separate reality. The only me is me. Are you sure the only you is you?’ which, at first, given the premise of previous instalments in the Silent Hill series and horror games as a genre, is not outstandingly different to what one might expect. You find yourself regaining consciousness on a concrete floor beside a cockroach, which skitters away as you stand and head for the only available door.
Upon opening this door, you enter a corridor of a family home, the floors littered with bottles and broken glass, pictures smashed in their frames. A radio broadcast is audible, detailing the murder of a wife and her two children in their home. It is safe to say it doesn’t seem like a coincidence. You walk through the corridor, around the corner, past two doors, one interior and one exterior, both, unsurprisingly, locked. The only option is to take the door at the end of the corridor, and this is where the teaser really starts to get your attention.
The door opens out into the same corridor you just came from, back at the beginning. Only things have changed ever so slightly. The radio is now just blasting static. As you walk through the corridor for the second time, someone hammers on the door as you pass. You will jump, you will laugh, but you’re starting to get the feeling it’s only going to get worse from here, and you’d be right.
The first thing that got to me was the change in the radio broadcast. It may seem a little cliché, but undeniably effective, when the voice of the dull newsreader is consumed by static, replaced with a voice that warns ‘Don’t turn that dial… we’re just getting started.’ As you approach, cautious, the voice tells you with increased force and malice: ‘Look behind you. I said… Look. Behind. You.’ Now at this point, I admit, I stared at that radio for some time, because not only did I not want to look behind me, but I didn’t want to look anywhere, just in case. When I finally did get up the nerve, of course… nothing. Upon re-entering that same corridor for the third time, distorted breathing began to grate through my speakers, I found myself in a predicament that gamers often do in horror games: how much dignity can I retain if I switch this off now? Then my torch flashed over the wall ahead and, all dignity be damned, the game was almost abandoned when the shadow on the wall revealed there was, in fact, something behind me.
Of course, I can’t detail the entire sequence of events, as not only would it be long, complex and difficult to capture the atmosphere, but I quite simply don’t know everything that happens. The basic concept is that you, as the character, walk through the same corridor repeatedly, having to trigger different events in order for the door at the end to open, only to find yourself in the same place once more. The corridor deteriorates little by little, and the supernatural interventions start to increase in frequency and intensity. However, these events aren’t always linear, and it seems that there are many different ways to progress through the story and get to the ending. Not only that, but in some cases the events are so subtle that you may miss them altogether, and be left wondering just why that door at the end of the corridor opened for you. This is the kind of game which, if you have nerves of steel, you’ll find yourself playing and replaying to pick up on things you missed the first, second and third time.
As mentioned before, the teaser does slip into a few old horror clichés. Abandoned house, murdered family, creaky floorboards, disembodied footsteps, distant crying, lights flicking on and off… it’s stuff we’ve seen before. Clichés, though, often exist for a reason: because they work. P.T takes those clichés and infuses them with a number of more original things to create an atmosphere that is truly terrifying.
Graphically, the game is nothing short of impressive, which is a small irony considering that Kojima Productions intentionally lowered the quality of the game in order to strengthen the implication that a small studio had created it. The voice acting, too, is excellent, something which can often be the downfall of genuinely independent games. As for the story itself, we are left with more questions than answers, though that is exactly what we should expect from a teaser. At times the suspension of disbelief can falter, though only fleetingly, as such that a sort of bizarreness is attained that actually adds to the experience. For example, upon discovering an oddly formed living foetus in the sink, one’s immediate reaction might be to dismiss it as too much. Yet somehow, when that same foetus begins to talk to you, you are pulled straight back into this twisted world without question.
Sadly, no game is perfect, and this does apply to P.T. The fact that you have to complete certain tasks to trigger events is in itself a great concept and is, for the most part, executed well. However, as the game progresses, it simply gets too hard. Normally, I would never list difficulty as a problem in a game, but in this teaser, it is just a bit much. You may find yourself stuck in the same loop for what feels like forever because you haven’t looked at the right spot in the corridor for quite long enough, or because you took eleven steps when you should have taken ten. Not that you were ever instructed to take a certain number of steps at all.
It seems that ultimately, the only way to complete the teaser in a reasonable timeframe is to call in the help of everyone’s best gaming aid, Google. We all know that Google is the last resort we all grudgingly turn to as sparingly as possible in times of great need, yet even there, especially with regards to how to reach the ending, everyone is stumped. There are a thousand and one theories with varying success rates, none of which are at one hundred percent. I myself followed four different sets of instructions (which included, somewhat embarrassingly, whispering ‘Hello, Lisa?’ into the microphone), only to finally find the ending after all those had failed and I’d resorted to wandering around aimlessly.
This seemingly excessive difficult, though, by no means negatively taints the game as a whole. It is original, intriguing, and most importantly, petrifying. I’m not sure it would be accurate to say I enjoyed this teaser, as I don’t think the level of terror I was feeling can ever equate to enjoyment, but it certainly did its job. Interestingly, the end of the teaser suggests that it is not directly linked to Silent Hills, leaving us to speculate how connected the two are. However, with Kojima Productions teaming up with the brilliantly twisted mind of Guillermo del Toro on the upcoming release, it’s easy to assume we’re in for a terrifying ride. Creator Hideo Kojima has already suggested that players have a spare pair of pants to hand while playing, and if the fear experienced in Silent Hills is anything close to the level achieved in the P.T., I would not take his advice too lightly.
P.T is available to download now for free for the PlayStation 4. Silent Hills, directed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro and starring Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead), is predicted to be released in 2016.