Hideo Kojima wants to loosen our bowels with his upcoming Silent Hill sequel for the PlayStation 4, and he’s not messing around. I’ll concede to diving headfirst into the recently released P.T. (or Playable Teaser) demo yesterday in a bullish mood, expecting the tense but not exactly unsettling experience that the survival horror genre has taught me to anticipate over the past few years. An hour later, I was a mess.
I’ll happily admit that I’m far from the archetypal man: I don’t particularly like spiders, I avoid violence and antagonism at all costs, and I generally worry about everyday things in a wimpy kind of way. That said, the one tough guy weapon in my arsenal is that I’ve always been able to cope pretty well with horror games. I actually find the act of being in control easier than having a more passive role, and the sense of apprehension has always made this one of my favourite genres.
Now, I’ll also concede that I haven’t played every horror game in existence – I’m informed that Amnesia: The Dark Descent is pretty petrifying – but this is certainly the most disturbing piece of software that I’ve ever had the misfortune of playing through. And, while in the aftermath of my first run I haven’t fully put my finger on why just yet, I think that it’s actually the relative lack of danger combined with the growing sense of familiarity that makes it so disconcerting.
For those of you that haven’t played it yet, the whole demo takes place in a single ‘L’ shaped hallway. This cluttered, claustrophobic corridor is clearly the culmination of a teensy development budget that no doubt stemmed from developer Kojima Productions’ attempts to justify the entire initiative to tight-fisted executives. However, it also happens to be the teaser’s greatest strength at the same time.
Strutting through the microscopic game space caused me to roll my eyes at first; the outdoor rain storm, chilling radio message, and old family photographs are all survival horror clichés at this point. Then you exit the room and do it all over again – and again and again. By the third or fourth time, I was in a pretty lax state of mind, and that’s a dangerous place to be. See, it’s around this point that the world starts to change: subliminal sound samples play, doors open and close, and you realise that you’re not alone.
And it’s because you’re already familiarised with the tiny space, that you notice every minute change. Why is there a ‘hello’ message suddenly etched onto the wall? Where has that picture disappeared to? Why does the radio want me to turn around? It’s not a spoiler to say that you really shouldn’t turn around, but you, like 99.9 per cent of others, absolutely will – and it’s from that particular point that the game gets inside your mind.
That makes solving its remaining – and, let’s be honest, obtuse – puzzles all the more stressful, even though there isn’t especially any danger at all. The majority of horror games place you in impossible scenarios to ramp up the tension; whether it’s trying to sneak past a particularly unpleasant nasty or a stern set of challenges that must be completed quickly, the terror comes from your heightened sense of mortality. And that’s where the frustration also sets in.
But this game has none of that: the checkpoints are frequent and regular, the concept of death seems utterly diminished when you take into account the parallel universe plot mechanic, and the level itself is so small that any slight error is unlikely to ever punish you with significant progress loss. And yet, it had my heart racing like no other game before it, as I searched almost insufferably for the next environmental clue that would get me to the end.
In fact, so frazzled was I by the time that I got to the final puzzle that I actually considered giving up – it all got a bit too much. Now, there’s some debate online about how you solve this last conundrum, and, despite seeing it through, I’m not convinced that I properly understand it either. It could be that way because Kojima, by his own admission, expected people to spend a week or so trying to happen upon the conclusion – but I’m not sure that I agree.
Indeed, I reckon that it’s all part of the experiment. Executing the exact – but ambiguous – set of steps required to reach the Silent Hills trailer teetering on the horizon shouldn’t be hard, but even waiting for a digital clock to strike midnight feels like the most utterly nerve-racking thing in the world. And so, as mentioned, I wanted to turn the game off. I’d walked through the same corridor dozens of times, I knew that there was no danger in the hall, and, heck, I even had access to a variety of instructions detailing roughly what I needed to do. Following them through, though, was almost impossible.
And that’s because the demo gets into your head in a way that no other survival horror title that I’ve ever experienced does. I suppose that I shouldn’t have expected anything less from the man that dreamed up the Psycho Mantis battle in the original Metal Gear Solid – but I did. So, from overconfident opening to terror stricken conclusion, Kojima gradually made me crack over the course of an impressive but unpleasant hour. And, as a result, I’m now convinced that he'll be able to coax me into a toilet related incident over the course of several more.
Have you managed to see through P.T. yet? Were you terrified by the teensy taster, or is Sammy just being a baby? Scream like you mean it in the comments section below.
Have you finished the P.T. demo? (49 votes)
Yes, but I was absolutely terrified
Yes, but I didn’t find it scary at all
No, I haven’t actually had chance
No, I don’t want to give it a go
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