P.T. — AKA Playable Teaser — is what happens when Konami hands the keys to the Silent Hill Universe over to famed horror director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) and auteur game designer Hideo Kojma (Metal Gear series). Both gentleman, who are rightfully respected in their own fields, come together to tell us exactly what they can do with a tired horror game franchise.
P.T. succeeds in several ways. It favors exploration-based horror over action-based, it has impeccable sound design, the atmophere is thick with dread, and it’s perfectly paced.
The premise is simplistic – a first-person journey through a continuous L-shaped hallway loop. Each time you complete the loop, elements in and about the hallway change slightly. The loop works because it inspires immediate contextual comfort. You can relate to the hallway. It looks like one from a big house, maybe a house you’ve lived in. The familiarity of it only exacerbates horror as unnatural elements settle in. And, boy, do they settle in quickly. From the moment you walk through the first door things seem a little off. Is it the messy shelf with pill bottles and a banana peel in the corner? Or is it the talk news broadcaster giving detailed accounts of a recent string of murders in the area?
The familiarity works in the same way the department store and late-game house levels worked in Condemned: Criminal Origins. We’ve all been in a house and department store. It makes them both comfortable, yet more sensitive to change.
P.T. doesn’t feature any sort of combat, which means all the horror must come from simply looking at things. On the surface, it might sound ineffective, but if you were given a gun, the entity desperately trying to break open the bathroom you’re locked in would be far less scary. And the main hallway is slender enough that it’s nearly impossible to avoid walking by something you’d rather step out of the way of. It’s constant confrontation of your fears.
Several moments in P.T. exist where I was nearly too afraid to walk forward or turn the corner to see what was next. If a game can paralyze with me fear to the point where I either stop moving or creep ever so slowly forward, I know it’s succeeding.
Depending on your intuition, P.T. could take roughly 1-2 hours to complete, which is just long enough. In the case of many horror games, you get comfortable enough with the mechanics and pacing for scariness to cease after the first few hours. That or, in the case of Dead Space, the game parades around as horror, but turns into an action game partway through. P.T. is short enough to keep you in that terrorizing sweet spot for the entire game.
And hats off to you if you can actually finish it. It’s both irritating and commendable that in 2014 someone can engineer an ending puzzle so obtuse that it’s nearly impossible to complete even with multiple online guides and forums open.
Recently, Konami had P.T. pulled from the Playstation Network and Sony’s servers after it cancelled Silent Hills – for which P.T. acted as a technical demonstration. Not only is it a depressing and rude way to extinguish one of the creepiest games ever made, it turned the game into a legend. Now the only thing scarier than playing it is knowing that you’ll never, ever get the chance if you already missed to window.