All for the love of being scared.
Originally posted to GamesBeat August 26, 2014
This month, the Internet has been buzzing about the Silent Hills playable teaser, or P.T. The directors have said that they expected it to take a week for people to crack the puzzle. Internet time is fast, though, and the nut wound up being blown open and gobbled up in one afternoon.
It turns out that Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro are making a new Silent Hill game starring Norman Reedus, the actor who plays Daryl Dixon on AMC’s The Walking Dead TV show. Less than a month ago, Silent Hill was in its death throes as a survival-horror franchise. It’s a sad thing, but the reality is that the once-illustrious series has seen one crummy installment after another for over 10 years. So when we learned that an eccentric director, known for his outlandish creative decisions, was taking half the control of Silent Hills, there were a lot of stomach knots. How his style was going to mesh with the other half of the director team — a man with a massive body of work, though not much in the way of horror — was another question entirely. These are two very different creators approaching something far from their standard wheelhouses. And then there was the issue of slapping Reedus on the cover in what could be viewed as a cash and popularity grab.
These voices were quickly silenced. Gameplay speaks louder than cynical conjecture, and in this case, the speaking was actually shrieks of fear.
Livestreams of P.T. spread through Twitch like wildfire. The game looked phenomenal, and dear god, was it scary. It was astounding to see how something as simple as a hallway could inspire such intense dread.
Kojima’s weirdness took shape and surface with weapons-grade effectiveness. Mundane things you wouldn’t expect, like family photos or a coat rack, took on an uncanny-valley type wrongness. Not to mention the surreal encounters, like a bloody paper sack having a bar-room discussion with you about your own hidden demons. Del Toro’s design influences made the atmosphere more than palpable. I found myself sitting in the center of my chair — legs tucked in, arms folded — for fear of some unknown thing grabbing me. When someone eventually did see the real ending, which revealed that the player character had been Reedus the entire time, a realization sunk in. The three figures that seemed like liabilities at first had coalesced into a beautiful, horrifying package.
Everything about P.T. was incredibly concise — especially the level design and the delivery of the story beats. The scares themselves were tightly reined, each striking with perfect timing and precision. It wasn’t just about seeing a scary face or a ghost on the balcony; the teaser gives you sound and atmosphere that send your imagination into overdrive — the lost hallmark of Silent Hill. Hearing almost inhuman moans and whimpers and being forced to keep control over your imagination as you try to piece together the scene is where the horrible magic of P.T. lives.
This is where things get a little weird(er).
It was the final Reedus reveal that caused people to change the way they were playing the teaser and and was ultimately what hurt the brilliant advertisement.
After discovering the Reedus ending, it was only natural that players wanted to see it for themselves. Dialing it into YouTube wasn’t enough, though. They wanted to feel the “I beat this obtuse puzzle — I’m so clever” feeling. As such, people began to see the teaser as a game to be beaten, not an atmosphere to be explored and terrified by. The goal became to achieve what could be looked at as the “win state” of the teaser.
But that’s not what this demo is trying to be. The puzzles become arbitrary pixel hunts and are eventually based on chance. People say that this makes P.T. bad — that it makes it boring and not scary anymore. Of course, you’re going to become bored and immune to the scares if you run in circles for hours. The point was never to make a game you were supposed to “win.” P.T. was an opportunity to show that the franchise is in good hands. Horror hounds and Silent Hill fans could rest easy knowing that the new talent clearly understands what it takes to be truly terrifying — and that the franchise is ready for revival.
This teaser reminds us that the scariest things are the things you don’t see or completely understand — the ominous thumping upstairs, or the radio static telling you to turn around when you’ve been standing still for too long. Being afraid to round a corner or open a door are the things that made the golden era of Silent Hill so incredible and are precisely what have been lost from recent installments. Getting caught up on beating this interactive teaser is like dwelling on beating a quick-time event. Yes, you could do it, but that’s not the point. People dissecting the systems and getting angry that they can’t overcome what they weren’t meant to in the first place is what is ruining their experiences.
Just play P.T. (or, more realistically, watch someone else play P.T.) — and try to enjoy being scared for a little while.