Next-Gen Has Arrived With P.T.

posted by @HeyItsKamo

I hate scary video games. I’ll play them- of course I’ll play them- but that doesn’t mean I like them. My friends older brother bought the original Resident Evil when it was released back in 1996 on the PlayStation 1, and he was nice enough to let us play the game with him; I was nine years old.

The first cut scene in the game, where Jill or Chris or who the hell ever encounters a zombie for the first time…I still get chills thinking about it. The sound of human flesh being consumed by an undead creature, and then that same monster turns around and he’s all gross looking and covered in blood and he’s just staring at you with that piercing eye? Fuck that.

Seriously, fuck THAT.

Ever since then, I haven’t really trusted horror video games. Kind of a “fool me once, shame on you” type of scenario, but can you blame me? For one particular frightening/creepy scene to stay with someone for that long is just astounding to me. It’s been damn near twenty years and I can still picture that moment exactly as it unfolded, as well as countless others across all gaming platforms.

In Diablo, there’s a dungeon pretty early on that you have to grind out and the room where the main boss is located has mutilated bodies littered all around it, pierced on spikes and shit. The tension we found in Manhunt was what made the game as good as it was, but that also made my anxiety go through the roof. I could barely get through Bioshock: the story, enemies, and that overall feeling of cosmic horror were too much for me at some points. Don’t even get me started on Eternal Darkness and how bad that game fucked with me (any game that has a “Sanity Meter” is a game that you should stay far away from). Even Splatterhouse creeped me out as a kid. SPLATTERHOUSE! I’ll admit that I’m a big baby and the new P.T. demo on the PlayStation 4 took me to the edge and, to be real with you, I’m not sure if I’m even back yet.

It was like ’96 all over again for me.

P.T. (which stands for Playable Teaser) is, for lack of a better word, totally horrifying. “Horrifying” honestly doesn’t even do it justice. I can’t with any clear conscience sit here and write this post and say I wasn’t scared the entire time. Outlast scared me, but this…

This is a photo-realistic screen from P.T.

If I had to estimate my heart rate for the duration of the demo, I’d say it was a steady 160 bpm. I’m not going to go too far into the details of the demo itself, explaining it scene by scene, because there are other accounts out there for you to check out, but I will mention a few moments that stuck out in particular. If you ARE interested in my full take on it, you can check out my live game play of P.T. here (click HERE for a 30 second clip of me getting super scared).

*Quick note before we go forward: P.T. was revealed as a teaser for the new Silent Hill game (known as Silent Hills) with a TBA release date, although rumors are it’s set for sometime in 2016*

So what exactly did P.T. do right with this demo? The short answer here is, well, everything. It isn’t until after you’ve beaten the demo that it’s revealed that this is a sneak peak at the next Silent Hill titleif you didn’t catch the Sony presser at Gamescom, you may have just thought this was a demo for some new game and that it wasn’t affiliated with one of the most popular franchises in video game history. The development team made excellent use of the setting- a single, repetitive hallway, a bathroom, and a garage(?). It’s a claustrophobics worst nightmare. Being in an environment like that (tight spaces with no where to go) with the constant threat of being attacked by a supernatural being was chilling.

The short demo itself was genius- being released immediately for download with as little background information given to the audience as possible was a bold move, but it really Doorworked out. It even had a brutal storyline, following the murder/suicide of a man and his family as a result of some kind of supernatural influences (and also heavy boozing and a possible cheating wife). The look of the game was incredible, with souped up graphics, and excellent use of lighting and shadow; the game looked as true to life as you can get, and it was a great test to see how the PS4 could perform with something that advanced. As far as I have seen, it had the best graphics of any current-gen game that’s been released so far, and that was AFTER the graphics were dulled down to make it look as if the demo was being produced by an indie developer.

When I originally heard about the graphics being reduced in P.T., it made me remember a story I heard about the original Silent Hill. We’ve come a long way since 1999, and when the first SH was created the developers had to add a lot of dark shadows and fog to hide how bad the graphics were- technology just wasn’t there yet for what the team wanted to create. This actually turned out to be positive because it helped create the atmosphere we’ve all come to know and fog is something that any fan of the series is familiar with. Fog is a staple of Silent Hill.

Atmosphere aside, the outright scares that you find throughout the demo don’t even come that often- most of the time I found that my own anxiety mixed with the creepy soundtrack was enough to freak me out. For the hour plus that I was playing the demo, I was constantly on edge, which is exactly what the game was intended to do. I was so dumbstruck with how good the game looked that I forgot I still had to play the game itself and get scared. I find it remarkable that I was that frightened and startled from the demo of a game that isn’t set to release until sometime in 2016. They have, at minimum, 25 MONTHS to put the finishing touches on this thing before it can be released. Doesn’t that, and the possibilities of the final product, scare the hell out of you? And with the advances in technology and new hardware that current-gen systems contain, the final product is going to look, sound, and act fucking real.

The soundtrack (both music and sound effects) was a clinic in audio mastering. It’s a mix between this kind of dark ambient sound and electronic music, mixed with human voices and digitized cuts full of distortion, all of which is reminiscent of previous Silent Hill titles. A demonic voice coming from a portable radio (radio play/static was usually present during a “scary” scene or signified that danger was close in the original SH), a crying/screaming/laughing baby, a bloody paper bag that talks to you about other dimensions in a low, distorted voice…yeah, no thanks. The radio broadcasts and the “other worldly” voice that would talk to you through the speaker later on in the demo were excellent, which is expected from a franchise that has always had top level voice acting.

The control scheme that the demo presented was also reminiscent of Silent Hill- if anything was going to be a dead giveaway that this was in the same vein as SH, it was the control scheme. To my point, umm……not a lot of action to be had with those controls. The sticks control the camera (1st person) and the direction you can walk, R3 zooms in and lets you inspect interesting details in the game, and that’s it. No run, no jump, no punch- just walk, look, and inspect. You continue to embody the idea of the “everyman” character established in this franchise through previous titles- not a ton of combat needed. You eventually get a flashlight in the demo, which is another nod to previous SH titles- your greatest weapon is your own instincts and light.

More impressive than the demo itself are the possibilities it holds for the continuation of the Silent Hill series. At the conclusion of P.T., we get a nice (scare free!) cut scene letting us know that Hideo Kojima, Guillermo del Toro, and actor Norman Reedus will all be involved in some way with the writing and production of the next installment of SH.

Reedus, who’s set to play the main protagonist in the next SH title, is a smart casting move as he has the ability to bring a certain “cool factor” to the series- I mean, come on, it’s Daryl fuckin’ Norman Reedus Dixon, the bad-ass, crossbow-wielding zombie slayer! I hope his characters name is something dope like Peck Benchpress or Gunther Fellhammer or The Rock, but it’s probably going to be something lame. Like, his character will have two first names, a la Frank Scott or something dumb…

More importantly here is that Reedus has the clout to bring a massive audience with him. While some people may not have heard of Silent Hill, most television viewers and video game enthusiasts today are sure to know what The Walking Dead is and that alone will help sell copies of the game. The Walking Dead game series from Telltale is wildly popular with fans of the show, and there’s no way the PR people from Konami could fuck this cross promotion up. They should at least get some commercials for Silent Hills to air in the next coming seasons. Shit, if the game is released off-season, just have a few The Walking Dead marathons air and pepper the game trailer in the commercials! That right there was an all around smart move on everyone’s part.

Guillermo del Toro is also a fantastic addition, since he is going to bring years of production and writing experience to a relatively new and constantly advancing medium. At first this made me feel a bit uneasy, but at the same time you have to remember that this is the man that gave us Pan’s Labyrinth, and brought Hellboy, and The Hobbit to the big shscreen. And while del Toro has minimal experience in the video game industry, he shouldn’t be considered a novice. Up until about two years ago, GDT was partnered up with Volition, Inc. and THQ to work on a psychological horror game series slated to be titled Insane. The man planned on doing EXACTLY THIS ALREADY! Now he gets to join up with arguably the biggest and most well known horror franchise in the history of video games and show what he can bring, but on a much bigger scale. Instead of seeing it as a game del Toro made, now we get to see it as del Toro tagging on with an already grounded and popular franchise. Who knows how much he already had written for the Insane series, but I’d put a good chunk of money down and say that we’ll see quite a bit of what he had planned for that in the next SH.

Maybe another important note to make is that there will be a lot that GDT can add to this game besides just the story, which will no doubt be sinister and way over the top. The production levels of Pacific Rim, Hellboy, and The Hobbit films were all top quality. Splice and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark were both imaginative and creepy and WEIRD AS SHIT. In one, scientists add human DNA to their genetic experiments and create a messed up monster, and in the other film a gang of blood thirsty demons demand children’s teeth. If demons violently demanding children’s teeth doesn’t sound like Silent Hill, I don’t know what does.

Over everything else though, the thing everyone should be most excited for is the involvement of Hideo Kojima, and what he can bring to the SH franchise. If you think about it, Kojima is a perfect fit for Silent Hill. It’s more than a perfect match, really, because his legacy, which entails the entire Metal Gear series of games (like, 30+ games and that’s NOT counting Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain set to release at the end of this year) is decidedly creepy. From Chico having a damn headphone jack in the middle of his chest in MGSV: Ground Zeroes to the Psycho Mantis boss battle in Metal Gear Solid where that lunatic messed with your television (Eternal Darkness reference?) and read your systems memory card. P.T. had something similar to this, with random screen distortions and a slice at the end of the game that made me think the demo bugged out and restarted (that’s just mean-spirited right there). Again, advancing technology will only add to the ways that video games can mess with us, but I think the next Silent Hill title is going to be borderline absurd with what the developer can do to make this experience as full of torment as possible.

The Metal Gear series is also acclaimed as one of the most well written game series in the history of the medium- this is a good thing for Silent Hills. A simple search of the web and game review websites (like Metacritic, for example) give multiple games in the series mid-90 to high-80 ratings, which is impressive since (as noted earlier) there are like THIRTY DAMN TITLES of that series. If Kojima can bring that style and magnitude of writing to the Silent Hill series, which as you may know desperately needs a fresh take (general consensus: everything after SH 3 is shit, and there are currently 8 titles available to play…), it could be something we’ve never seen before in terms of the realm of SH and the “survival horror/horror/psychological horror” game genre in general. Reedus has the ability to make a new face for the franchise, while del Toro will bring direction and grand production, and Kojima will bring writing and decades worth of experience in the industry. This could be a turning point for Silent Hill.

Another point to add: would Reedus, del Toro, and Kojima risk their reputation’s on a franchise that wasn’t as established as Silent Hill is? Personally, I think the answer is a definitive “No”. Everything these guys are associated with can be considered high quality, groundbreaking, and wildly popular. They wouldn’t sign on for something like this if they didn’t think it was going to “change the game” so to speak. We are going to be in store for something incredible.

Let’s move on to another interesting aspect found in the demo: perspective. Something you’ll immediately notice when running through P.T. is that the camera view is entirely from the first-person viewpoint. This presents a drastic turn from the rest of the titles in the series, with the exception of parts of Silent Hill 4: The Room, and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (you know, the Wii one…), which flipped around between a first-person and an over-the-shoulder perspective. Psychological horror/survival horror/horror games from the past few years (The Evil Within, Dead Island, Outlast, Left 4 Dead 2, Dying Light, The Forest) have all taken a turn from the SH and Resident Evil franchises heavy use of the third-person/over-the-shoulder perspective and have embraced the more popular first-person viewpoint.

And why wouldn’t it? Popularity of the first-person-shooter genre will only continue to grow and is now the accepted norm. In a time where Call of Duty and Battlefield are two of the most popular franchises and release an annual title, the first-person-shooter reigns supreme. Last of Us, Gears of War, and Grand Theft Auto are ash1 few titles/franchises where third-person is still prominent, but they are being rapidly overrun with a horde of FPS games. Maybe it’s time for Silent Hill to turn in that direction as well.

I’m personally hoping that Silent Hills will continue along with the P.T. demo and stick with a first-person viewpoint, although who knows for sure? The demo ended with Silent Hills protagonist (Reedus) walking down a shadow filled and deserted street, with the camera panning behind him (third-person perspective). The main argument that I can think of to switch it to first-person would be: a LOT can be done with a horror game set in the third-person, we’ve been seeing it for years and it’s been effectively scaring the hell out of us, but first-person is just so much more intense as P.T. proved to us already. With third-person perspective, you can somewhat see your surroundings- first-person binds you to a more focused viewpoint, with straight forward and peripheral vision, but nothing behind your character. You actually have to fully turn in a direction to see what that strange noise just was- it’s more intense and the scares come more often, even if there isn’t anything there to scare you.

The fear of the unknown and the creepy soundtrack have always been the bread and butter of Silent Hill, more so than the creepy monsters that you interact with throughout the series. P.T. had a few moments of “ahh there’s a monster right there and it got me” but the anticipation of something happening and ultimately not, mixed with the grotesque soundtrack…that is what hit me the hardest. The story was dark, as all SH games are, but this was almost too over the top.

In one final strange turn, once you finish P.T. a small disclaimer pops up letting you know that…this could have NOTHING to do with the end product. In fact it’s implied- why wouldsh3 they add that disclaimer if it wasn’t true? The idea that Konami and Kojima could already be fucking with us is an excellent sign of things to come. It’s like they are saying “look at what we can do with one 30 minute demo that has nothing to do with the final product. Look at how good the graphics/soundtrack/story/game play is, look at how scared you are with this demo we put together that isn’t even close to the end result of what we will release to you.” The possibilities of what is to come are astonishing.

The video game industry has gone through a lot of change since the first Silent Hill was released in 1999. A franchise that was once the king of the survival horror/psychological horror genre has been dethroned by more innovative games in recent years, and a succession of misguided releases that didn’t capture the original success of earlier titles in the series has tarnished its once stellar name. A serious revamping needed to be done, and so far it looks like P.T. has changed that. For once we have a bit of light in a series that has been so full of dark.

But seriously, that shit was sooo scary.

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