If there’s one long-standing frustration in video games, it’s being a fan of Silent Hill. In recent years, that name has become synonymous with disappointment. Even the most dedicated fans will admit there are more mediocre or bad games than good ones. It’s a sad feeling because there’s magic within the alleyways of that foggy mountain town. But it has been overshadowed by poor stories, clunky gameplay and two bloody awful movies. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Silent Hill was dead and buried but it had almost become a joke within the video game community. Konami was just happy with keeping the series’ head just barely above water and not injecting new life into it. The popular opinion was Silent Hill needed to move on and evolve if it wanted to survive. The only stronger opinion was that it was probably too late for such a colossal resurrection to even be attempted.
If marketing dollars didn’t rule so many decisions in big-budget video games, more games would arrive in the same fashion as P.T.. A short confusing teaser during the GamesCom press conference in Germany told viewers that this strange vision of horror was already available for download on the PlayStation Network. When I started playing it, nobody knew what it was all about but it quickly blew my mind. Not only did the lighting and atmosphere feel so advanced, the whole package felt effortless. Like the mad geniuses behind this experience knew something we didn’t when it came to making games in 2014.
The fact that it came out of nowhere certainly helped its impact but it was how it expertly captured the unfettered fear of the unknown that had people sitting up and taking notice. From the opening seconds, it was clear something VERY wrong had occurred in this house. The radio reports of domestic homicide was a disturbing omen and the rainstorm outside the single barred-up window enveloped the house in endless claustrophobia.
I had very real difficulties moving forward. I was legitimately scared. With no idea what to expect, a flurry of cockroaches or knock on a door would have me terrified. I made sure to play it in the dead of night with headphones and despite my constant hesitation, it was the only way to experience what this ‘interactive teaser’ had to offer. There’s one moment in particular I want to mention. Walking the hallway for what must have been the third or fourth time, I started to hear the sound of weeping. Not the “Oh dear, someone is sad, I better cheer them up” kind of weeping but rather the “Oh dear god, what is that, let me out of this house, I will punch my way through this wall if I have to oh god oh god oh god” kind. Creeping forward, I turned a corner and saw this:
Up until this point, I had not seen anybody in this house. But this “person” was just standing there, lit only by a single light. I was frozen to the spot. There were no music cues to signify their arrival, no predictable jump-scare clanging on the soundtrack. Just utter silence. That’s what made it incredibly creepy. What was this mysterious figure going to do? Was there any more of them? This was the moment that I knew P.T. was something very special. I must have stared at this figure for a least a minute or two before taking a few steps forward. The lights went out and they were gone. It was an amazing encounter that stands as my favourite “moment” of 2014. I have tremendous respect for every miniscule design decision that resulted in this event. I’m still in awe.
Before long, it was revealed that P.T. was a ‘playable teaser’ for a new Silent Hill game designed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro. This was an absolute revelation. You’re telling me this unprecedented style of horror gameplay will be part of a series that everybody thought was lost to mediocrity and apathy? Unbelievable. This information coupled with how P.T. was delivered towered above the majority of video game announcements in 2014. It was incredibly bold and breathed life into something I thought to be long dead. A further cinematic (non-playable) teaser was released soon after that featured headless ghosts, creepy toys and a massive giant chasing the player through hallways and into the depths of a dark basement. It displayed the same sensibilities as P.T. and as such, gave me tremendous hope that whatever ‘Silent Hills’ will be, it will hold true to what this original vision contained.
P.T. hit like a knife through the ribs and was unlike anything else this year. Even though I could barely move, I loved everything about it. It both terrified me as a horror fan and filled me with hope as devotee of Silent Hill. I sincerely hope other game publishers take note of the way it was released. I understand how the marketing machine works but P.T. arriving with no fanfare whatsoever made so much more impact than any number of developer diaries or character trailers. It was just the cherry on top that it turned out to be the finest horror game this year.