Why P.T. Was So Effective
The most unassuming title screen ever
I am not typically one to willingly play a horror game. There are a few exceptions, but I usually only go so far as thriller or suspense games such as Alan Wake, which I would not really consider to be a horror game. One of these exceptions happened to be the playable teaser P.T., which Jeff brought over to my place so that we could suffer together in co-operative terror. Having never played a Silent Hill game before and only having a passing knowledge of their premise, I had no idea what to expect from Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s collaboration. What I found was easily the most terrifying game experience I have ever had. Once I finished and had time to actually relax after two solid hours of oppression, I began to evaluate my experience and really understand why the game was so effective at completely enveloping me in the experience as well as why I found myself morbidly curious with the potential of the full game.
What I was immediately struck by was simply how graphically impressive the visuals were. The environment is stunning, so much so that I felt that I was actually there. If you were to take any screenshot of the environment, it could easily be mistaken for a photo taken from someone’s home. I attribute a lot of this realism to how great the lighting was. Being a horror game, lighting plays a big role in setting the mood and tone of a scene which this game certainly played off brilliantly. The lights changed constantly whether it was certain lights turning off, on, or even changing colors. This went a long way in immersing me further into the setting crafted before me.
This game is graphically stunning, further immersing you in the twisted scenario.
Going hand in hand with the visuals was the visceral audio and sound effect work. There is a radio in the foyer area that is the initial mood setter of the game as the man on the radio talks about families that have been murdered by the fathers. As unsettling as that is, it only gets more so as the radio announcements become increasingly bizarre to overtly aggressive. In addition to the radio there are sounds of a baby crying and laughing, a woman breathing and weeping, and the sounds of doors opening and aggressive knocking. The audio complements the visuals in a way to make it an experience rather than just another game to play. It was something I really felt rather than played, in a way that few other games have been able to accomplish.
Being set in a typical suburban home, I didn’t have to stretch my imagination much to believe this place existed. It looks like any old house interior I’d seen before which makes what I experienced all the more frightening and close to home. The little details strewn about such as wall photos and various furnishings let you know that a family, at some point, resided here. The fact that the halls are in such disarray, however, lead me to question exactly what occurred here and why I am tasked with walking the halls. What was perhaps the most baffling as well as intriguing was just how minimalist the game was.
All the little details like this table make the area feel more believable as a lived in home.
The events that take place in the teaser can be broken down into four areas. There is an initial room where the game starts, a long stretch of hallway, a right turn to another hallway leading to the foyer, and a bathroom where the hallways connect. There are four doors as well; the door leading to the first hallway, the bathroom door, the front door, and a door that goes to what I assumed to be the garage. Throughout the duration of the play through, this is all you have to explore. What makes the playable area so interesting is that upon exiting through the “garage” door, you find yourself entering back through the door to the first hallway, having skipped the starting room and looped back. This is what hooked me.
I am very much a fan of abstract gameplay mechanics, and why this one interested me so much was that each subsequent loop would introduce environmental changes. Sometimes these changes would be quite subtle, ranging from some small writing on a wall somewhere to a light being off. Then there are the other times; the times when the game skips the subtlety and moves into horrifying and disturbing territory. What makes this so fantastic is how slowly the changes occur initially; steadily ramping up to levels that make you wonder if you want to keep pressing on. This is the struggle that I find so fascinating. I wanted so badly for the ride of terror to be over for fear of the unseen, but I didn’t want to leave without seeing it to the end. It is that fear of the unseen that makes this experience a cut above a simple jump scare-fest.
P.T. had a few jump scares here and there, but it certainly was not reliant on them for scares. As I said, it was the unseen or the possibility of what might lurk around the corner (more on that in a minute) that was the most effective means of giving me the creeps or a legitimate shriek of fright. The game was constantly threatening to release the ghostly form of Lisa at the drop of hat, but it didn’t do so very often. I believe we only saw Lisa around five times throughout our 2 hour playtime, but it was the scarcity of her appearance that made her entrance that much more potent. What the developers knew was that it isn’t always the monster itself that is the scary part; the possibility of the monster can be so much more powerful because you are now feeding off the imagination of the player. I for one have an active imagination when it comes to things that freak me out, so the times when the game threatened and did not deliver were particularly effective on me since it just prolonged that feeling of oppression and made me all the more paranoid about what may be behind me or even around the corner.
Never before has a 90 degree turn terrified me more.
The final thing I would like to touch on is what I believe to be the true genius of P.T.’s simplistic design. That would be the corner that adjoins the two hallways you traverse. What could be great about something as seemingly innocuous as a corner? Well, it has to do with two things I’ve talked about above; the ever changing nature of the constant loop, and the other being the fear of the unknown. Since P.T. is a first person survival horror game, your players movement and turning speed is slower than what is typical of other first person games (namely shooters). This makes the walk leading to the corner all the more agonizing as I found my mind trying to prepare myself for what I may find lurking just beyond the turn. Being in a loop you are forced to take that turn constantly, sometimes with nothing to worry about and other times with hearty helping of horror. To make matters worse (or better?) there is a blur effect when you turn as the character’s eyes refocus to new stimuli. This effect was a consistent source of false scares which lead to me second guessing myself only to realize in terror that what initially I wrote off is, in fact, the silhouette of a unsettlingly tall woman shambling toward me (at least I thought she was moving toward me, I didn’t stick around long enough to find out). Because of this corner, there is consistently a part of the area you cannot view leaving you to wonder what could be over there. It simply could be nothing, and many times it is nothing. Then there are the times when you reach the other side only to realize the door is shut and you have to first turn once to face the other direction, who knows what could be behind you, and then make the turn around the corner again. There were times when it took a lot of effort to make those turns.
There are many times you turn the corner to find nothing. It’s because of the times you do find something that make you hesitate.
P.T. was an experience in the truest form of the word. It was something that I actually felt the effects of, rather than something I simply played. Everything I detailed above helps this playable teaser that Kojima and del Toro created rise above what other games in the genre have tried and they have done so with an elegantly simplistic design. Even though I am not a big fan of the horror genre of games, I came away from the experience with such respect for the craft that I cannot help but appreciate it. Whenever a game can make me emotionally react as strongly as I did with P.T., I want to be able to understand and share why others need to take notice. If you have yet to experience the playable teaser to Silent Hills and have access to a PS4, you should give it a try. Just be sure to grab some friends who can suffer through with you.
Have you played through P.T. and have some thoughts to add? Be sure to leave your comments below, we would love to hear what you have to say! We always make sure to respond to our lovely commenters (the few of you that exist).