P.T. — the playable teaser for Silent Hills — has been available for a week now and I think anyone who’s played it will agree that it’s quite the unsettling, chilling experience… at least, initially.
Played from a first person perspective, it has echoes of Outlast and other recent survival horror games. Waking up alone in a darkened room, you only have one option: exit through the door in front of you. On the other side is a corridor that turns to the right at its end. It contains a clock — perpetually stuck at 23:59 — and a dresser. On the dresser is a phone with its receiver off the hook, some family photos and an assortment of pills strewn about haphazardly. A lone teddy bear lies at the feet of the dresser, staring up, long abandoned.
Upon turning right, the corridor continues. A door to your right is locked while further on another door to the left — and seemingly out of this nightmarish space — is also locked. Opposite the door is another dresser with more photos, a plant and an old radio. Directly ahead is another door which leads to some stairs down to yet another door. Passing through this final door places you back at the beginning of the corridor and the cycle begins anew. Eventually it’s revealed that behind the second door is a bathroom complete with creepy, demon fetus in the sink.
Repetition is usually anathema for horror. Continued exposure to something gradually diminishes its effect until finally it becomes mundane. The genius of P.T. are the subtle changes that occur through each successive loop. Different sounds, new objects here and there, changed dialogue and visual effects all work in concert to keep the player terrified of what is, in effect, an empty L-shaped corridor. My hat goes off to Hideo Kojima and the team at Kojima Productions for managing to keep P.T. so scary for so long… until it totally drops the ball.
Since its release much, has been written on the internet about P.T.’s final ‘puzzle’ with a hell of a lot of debate raging on just what is required to complete it. Kojima himself is quoted as saying, “The last puzzle is ridiculously difficult. This is completely intentional. I personally expected this to take at least a week to be solved.” Even now if you Google the final puzzle, you’ll be greeted with hundreds of results with differing opinions and claims as to how to actually finish the game. The demo. The gaemo? You know what I mean.
The teaser is hugely successful until this final, incredibly obtuse moment. No direction is given on how to finish and, by all accounts, most people have completed the teaser by sheer luck. Having to repeat the final loop over and over again rapidly degrades the fear factor until rather than abject horror all the player feels is frustration and anger. I myself tried for hours to complete the puzzle to no avail. By this point nothing that occurred on screen bore even the slightest resemblance to something scary, despite that fact that a few short (or not so short) hours prior they had scared the sh*t out of me. I finally completed the teaser by leaving it paused for three hours while I went shopping. Not exactly the most interactive and intense of moments, but it got me there. And this is where my concern stems.
Don’t get me wrong. The tone of P.T. is perfectly dreadful; if Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro can manage to keep the atmosphere going for the length of Silent Hills then we’re definitely in for a terrifying treat. However, if the final puzzle in P.T. is anything to go by, Silent Hills may include similar fear deflating road blocks. The Silent Hill series has always included difficult and often frustrating puzzles, but nothing of the ilk seen in P.T.. If this is what Kojima has in store for players then we should be worried.
Silent Hill has never been the most subtle of video game franchises either and Kojima is anything but subtle. But it wasn’t until I reached the conclusion of P.T. and heard to the frankly god awful voice over that I really had concerns for Silent Hills. It was a tiny piece of dialogue at the end of a largely excellent experience, but it and the final puzzle were enough to sour my expectations somewhat. Silent Hill has been in decline for several years and fresh eyes and a new take may be exactly what the series needs. God knows it can’t be any worse than Homecoming. In saying that, Del Toro has demonstrated time and time again that he knows how to deftly create dread and fear through subtly and atmosphere. Perhaps his influence will reign in the whackiness Kojima is famous for.
P.T. is and was an ingenious way to announce a new Silent Hill. The combination of Kojima, Del Toro and The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus is a tantalising prospect and one that could lead to a winning return to form. It won’t do so though, if — as players — we’re forced to spend hours desperately and frustratedly trying to figure out portions of the game while the curtain is gradually pulled back to reveal that the Great and Powerful Oz is merely human. More fear, less dumb dialogue and for the love of all that is holy, no puzzles even slightly resembling the final one in P.T..
P.T. is currently available to download for PS4. Silent Hills was announced at Gamescom, but no release date or platforms have been revealed at this stage.
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