'PT' Still Gets Under My Skin In A Way No Other Horror Game Has
In August 2014, Guillermo Del Toro and Hideo Kojima released a mysterious interactive teaser on the PlayStation Store to build hype for their planned revival of the Silent Hill franchise. They called it PT.
What was supposed to be nothing more than a short demo that would whet the appetite for a full game further down the line turned out to be one of the smartest, most immersive, and well-designed horror games of all time - one whose legend only continues to grow, despite Konami's cancellation of Silent Hills and subsequent (frankly bizarre) attempts to remove every trace of PT itself from existence.
On paper, the premise of PT is so simple that it should never have been the hit is was - and still is today. You wake up in a room, and wander down the corridor of a family home, searching for the exit. That's pretty much it. That's the game, except of course the actual execution is so much smarter than that
This isn't a typical horror game/Resident Evil-style house with puzzles and traps and mazes and shortcuts. In fact, the game mostly takes place in one short corridor with a few locked doors, family pictures on the walls, and a radio that delivers players with an account of a grisly familicide.
And so you walk through the corridor, unsettled perhaps, by the creaking floorboards, the shuffle of your own footsteps, and the oddly detailed way in which the radio newscaster shares with you what we assume to be news of the outside world.
"The day of the crime, the father went to the trunk of his car, retrieved the rifle, and shot his wife as she was cleaning up the kitchen after lunch," the radio fuzzily tells us. "When his ten-year-old son came to investigate the commotion, the father shot him, too."
"His six-year-old daughter had the good sense to hide in the bathroom, but reports suggest he lured her out by telling her it was just a game. The girl was found shot once in the chest from point-blank range"
Heart racing, and not entirely thrilled to be stuck in such an unsettling location, you obviously head straight for the door at the other end of the corridor and... end up right back at the start of the corridor.
And so it is that PT ultimately plays out like one of those awful nightmares we've all had. The one where nothing seems to make sense, where we've clearly got one foot in reality but the other foot is dangling over the edge of something terrifying and unknown, and there's no clear way to escape. The one where we know there's something wrong, but there's absolutely nothing we can do about it.
There are visceral horrors to be found in PT, certainly. There's the decomposing ghost of Lisa who'll eventually start following you around and threatens to appear anytime you turn a corner or attempt to go back on yourself. There's also the deeply unsettling fetus in the bathroom sink who clearly doesn't think much of you at all.
But for all the awful, grinning ghost women and taunting sink fetuses, the biggest terror in PT is undoubtedly the corridor itself, and the way in which this one space manages to crawl under your skin more than an entire zombie-filled city or abandoned asylum full of monsters.
Who among us hasn't had to make a terrified dash from the bedroom to the bathroom in the middle of night? We're not scared because we seriously think there's some sort of demon waiting to jump down from the attic and tear our hearts out, we know that's impossible. But in the dark, our minds convince us there's something there - something waiting.
No matter how much we tell ourselves that can't be true, that primal fear of the unknown lingers and causes us to leg it to the loo, eliminate our waste our quickly as possible, and sprint back to bed before the thing that we know isn't there can hurt us. It's like Kojima managed to bottle this feeling for PT.
You'll second guess every single shadow and sound, precisely because Lisa doesn't even show up all that often, even though the potential for her is ever present. More than half of the scares in PT will almost certainly be your convincing yourself you've seen something that isn't there. And that is a threat that you can't exorcise, shoot in the head, or run away from.
Most horror games start you off in a confusing or terrifying situation before you ultimately develop an understanding of the scenario and slowly regain a sense of empowerment through that understanding. In PT, however, you walk through the same corridor over and over and over again, understanding a little less about the world each time and becoming more and more disconnected from reality.
The lighting becomes increasingly otherworldly. The radio - your one source of human contact - stops telling you all about the murdered family and becomes little more than a low indistinguishable crackle, which is somehow worse. The pictures on the walls start to move and shake as if out of phase with their surroundings, while lights swing violently overhead.
It's a suffocating, deeply unpleasant atmosphere that maliciously builds the tension till your heart threatens to burst out of your chest. There have been plenty of other games that have attempted to play with our minds like this since, but for my money I don't think any have managed to be quite as successful as PT.
Why? I'm honestly not sure. Maybe it's because nobody expected a 30 minute playable teaser to have such a profound effect on them. Maybe it's because actually beating the game required most of us to go online and search for guides or talk with friends, meaning that even when we were physically free of that damn corridor, our minds were still right there looking for ways to get out.
Maybe it's the fact that PT was merely the beginning chapter of a story we'll never get to read. Even if you managed to escape the house, you'll never, ever know what was supposed to happen next. Hell, maybe it's all of the above.
Whatever the case, PT burrowed under my skin five years ago and hasn't ever truly left. I can't think of any other horror experience - film, book, or game - that's managed that in quite the same way... certainly not in half an hour, anyway.
Featured Image Credit: Konami