One of the surprise inclusions at Sony’s Gamescom stage show was a bizarre trailer for a new horror IP called P.T. Announced via a teaser showing gameplay footage interspersed with audience reactions, the game was apparently being developed by an unheard-of team called 7780s studio. A playable teaser (oh, I see what they did there…) was then put up on the PlayStation store for people to try for themselves.
Making it to the end of the demo revealed that it was actually a teaser for Silent Hills, a new game in the much-loved franchise brought to us by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, starring Norman Reedus. It’s not the first time that Kojima has used a fake game and developer to announce one of his titles – everyone remembers Moby Dick Studio’s The Phantom Pain – but this announcement took things even further; it’s actually a pretty genius piece of viral marketing – the demo was put on the store for all to download with the game announcement stuck on at the end, meaning that the first person to finish P.T. effectively got to announce a new game. That honour fell to the UK’s SoapyWarpig over on Twitch. Below, you’ll find the full teaser for Silent Hills.
But let’s talk about the teaser, as it bodes well for the direction of the full game. I’m superficially reminded of two games, the first of which is Silent Hill 4: The Room. Now, bear with me – I know SH4 wasn’t the most beloved of the series, but it does appear to take some cues from that. The demo essentially takes place in two rooms and an apartment corridor, and is in first-person like Silent Hill 4‘s apartment sequences. For me, those were the best parts of SH4, penning you into a small environment and making you watch through your character Henry’s eyes as strange occurrences and hauntings began to take over his home. P.T. achieves a similar tone here, though in far, far more unsettling ways.
Setting you loose in first-person in confined spaces really ratchets up the feeling of claustrophobia, and like Silent Hill 4 we also hear strange, disembodied snatches of audio (think along the lines of “Remember – I’m always watching you,” and you’ll have some idea). Then there’s the horrible scratchy, croaky breathing that will make you spin around, time after time, to try and see where it’s coming from. Sometimes you’ll even see what’s making the noise, and then wish you hadn’t; there’s a malevolent spirit stalking you in this place, and it seems to have something to do with the skinned horror in the bathroom…
This feeling of being enclosed is amplified by a minimal approach to interaction that brings to mind something like Slender: The Eight Pages – like that game, P.T. simply drops you into an area with no explanation and expects you to figure things out for yourself. You’ll walk that corridor many, many times, solving some kind of idiosyncratic puzzle to unlock the door at the end, often without even knowing what you’re supposed to be doing until you stumble upon it. The only thing you can really do is walk around and ‘zoom in’ to look closer at things, and the fact that you can’t really affect the world around you works in tandem with the claustrophobic, smothering atmosphere. For a video game – which so often are about power fantasies and wish fulfilment – it makes you feel uniquely powerless. All you can do is stare at things in the hope that you discern some clue, and who knows what’s happening behind you while your attention is locked on that curious photo on the wall.
It’s certainly an immersive experience, and it’s not just the first-person perspective that achieves that. The game features no HUD, no battery indicator for your flashlight – no screen furniture at all. You’re simply in a creepy place with an evil spirit, forced to look at everything through your characters eyes. It puts you right into the game, and some typically Kojima-esque tricks like messing with what you’re seeing through some visual effects (visual distortions, intentional screen tear – I even had the game white-screen on me once, and I genuinely wondered if it had crashed) really gets under your skin. It’s reminiscent of that classic Psycho Mantis battle from Metal Gear Solid, but it works so much better in a horror game, especially when you’re seeing through the eyes of the protagonist. You’ll be surprised how something as simple as changing the colour of the lighting can be quite so unsettling – just as you feel like you’re getting used to the environment, something in the way you perceive it shifts and it takes on a new kind of malevolence.
But how does this all tie into the greater Silent Hill franchise? Is it a reboot or a sequel? We’ll have to wait and see, though I did notice something during the demo – a message appears above the ‘safe’ door that reads, “Forgive me Lisa, there’s a monster inside of me.” This could be a reference to Lisa Garland, a character from the original Silent Hill who nursed Alessa Gillespie. I haven’t yet noticed anything else that would tie this game to events of the rest of the series, but I haven’t finished the demo yet so who knows what else I’ll see. I did manage to record some of my time with P.T. however, so if you don’t have access to it you can get a good feel for what’s going on by watching my video below. Be sure to use headphones.
Time will tell whether the Lisa mentioned here is the same one that Harry Mason stumbles across in Alchemilla Hospital, or whether there’s anything connecting this new entry to any of the older games. We can also hope that Akira Yamaoka will be returning to handle the soundtrack – the little teaser at the end of the trailer seems to suggest as much. But one thing’s for certain: Silent Hills is definitely in the right hands. Kojima knows how to mess with our minds, and that’s in full effect in P.T.