Perhaps the most talked about thing to come out of Gamescom was a little thing called P.T. It was touted by Sony during their briefing as a “playable teaser” and available at that very moment on the PlayStation Store for the PlayStation 4. This so-called interactive trailer from 7780s Studio left the stage with as much mystery as it entered.
Turns out that the P and T actually stand for nothing more than “playable teaser.” The pseudo-demo is nothing more than a completely unrelated chunk of horror gaming that locks away an actual teaser trailer for Silent Hills, the upcoming Silent Hill game from Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro.
You probably already know this since this secret didn’t stay secret for very long. But if you don’t have a PS4 or weren’t willing to spend the time downloading 1.3 GB, here’s the gist: you play from a first-person perspective, waking up in a strange, dark room with nothing more than a table in the corner, a door on a wall, and a cockroach quickly leaving your company.
Once you leave the door, you step into a relatively bright and long hallway. Paintings and portraits adorn the walls on either side. In a little alcove to the right is a digital clock curiously stuck at 23:59. A voice recording begins to play, detailing some rather grisly murders, as you approach the corner. A table with photos and strewn candy and a phone off the hook sits to the left while the hallway itself continues to the right.
You continue to walk and a baby begins to cry. It’s hard to place where it’s coming from; looking around does nothing to help pinpoint its origin. It’s striking how gorgeous yet low-rent this demo is, clearly something only the current generation could render. But the aural fidelity is certainly the greater and more terrifying aspect here. The foyer is just ahead with the front door to your left, a chandelier above you, and a table to the right, holding a almost hilariously 70s-ish wedding photo.
At the end of the hallway is a door. Walking through, it goes down a few steps and to another door, a door that leads to…the beginning of the hallway. The entire demo loops through nothing more than this small L-shaped corridor, save for the additional and sparse exploration of an attached bathroom. There are no puzzles, per se, but you certainly must interact or see or hear particular scripted elements before you can proceed.
For the most part, it is an incredibly tense hour-long ride. As far as game design is concerned, it is as point-A-to-point-B as it gets as you literally go from one door to the other over and over again, but because it is so claustrophobic and able to closely control your unnamed directive, it is taut and interesting for much of its opening moments.
Slowly it dawns on you that it’s not about just triggering the next event but it’s about subconsciously noticing minute differences between each lap, doubling back, and finding the alterations more disturbing than what was there before. The aforementioned wedding photo, for instance, is funny at first with the husband sporting a hefty pornstache and the wife a Marge Simpson-sized pompadour, but the paranoia and fear of finding what it will become slowly grinds its way into your resolve.
Somewhere along the way, the singular and most distinct message of the teaser (other than don’t enter doors that open on their own) is that this is hell. At one point it is actually scrawled across the wall by the front door while a bleeding, wailing, and eerily swinging fridge hangs from where the chandelier used to be. The physical reminder exists as well: with each iteration, you walk down a small flight of stairs, perhaps deeper and deeper into some sort of dark and punishing existence.
The problem is that, being that it isn’t really a game, the fact that puzzles exist is bothersome. They eventually become the sort of quandary presented by older adventure games, relegating players to pixel hunting for the right thing to click. Except that you don’t truly get feedback on what is right or wrong, leading to frustration rather quickly.
At first, the mystery and unknown is fascinating. It’s scary being unsure of what you are stepping into. Even though they said this is a teaser for a horror game, you don’t know what kind of horror game. Should you expect jump scares? Or what about terrors akin to Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem? Those questions compound on top of others to make the initial experience a frightful and engaging one.
But then as it becomes apparent that you have to play by rules you don’t know and might never know to get to some other undefined point. It’s just one too many variables in an equation that the game asks you to solve. Many people praise this as one of the most terrifying things they’ve ever played. A hypothesis: they lucked into or stumbled into “solutions” far quicker than others. (Apparently Kojima thought he’d made a demo worth a week, leaving suspicions as to his understanding of puzzle design.)
Perhaps if this skewed closer to being an actual trailer or an actual game and this would have been more broadly revered—though it eventually got around to being the former—but then that has the potential to take away those precious few reactions that land in “sweet fuck this is the best thing ever” territory. However, few people are denying this is an effective bit of marketing. Everyone is or was talking about it. What more can you ask of advertising?
If you recall from the 2012 Spike TV Video Game Awards, Kojima did something similar with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The trailer was simply for something called The Phantom Pain by an unknown company called Moby Dick Studios. The ruse didn’t last very long. Many suspected it was Snake in that trailer and then those in the VIP section of the Konami party were mostly wearing Moby Dick Studios/Phantom Pain shirts.
It appears, however, that the idea of real life mystery surrounding a product hasn’t left Kojima’s mind. While he had been teasing the idea of being involved in a Silent Hill game, nothing official had been announced. What better way than to make a little horror teaser, playable and palpable with a full platter of Kojima curiosities?
P.T. is a far more productive scheme than Moby Dick Studios ever was. It makes me wonder how much Del Toro was involved. Kojima was always more of a conceptually brilliant fellow, his brain obviously encapsulating grandiose and impossibly intricate and intertwined threads that you only find on the walls of obsessed detectives and time travelers tumbling down a rabbit hole of cosmic consequences. Del Toro, however, has a knack for taking unrealistic or dubious endeavors and distilling them into simpler forms to make them more palatable and more enticing.
It’s an interesting notion, combining two fellows with such complimentary skill sets that you would otherwise consider incompatible. Of course, the same was said of Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami teaming up for Shadows of the Damned and all they really ended up with was a somewhat decent action game, but they were a mechanical pair. Del Toro and Kojima are a cerebral duo. The most interesting thing to come from P.T. is the deluge of amorphous but delectable possibilities that could come from this combo.