P.T.: What it is, what it means and what it could be.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past couple days, last week, during Gamescom, Sony announced a new game they were simply calling P.T. or, literally, “Public Test” or “Playable Teaser” (depending on who you ask). Several videos were shown off regarding the test demo, and an actual playable demo was uploaded to PSN for PS4 gamers to check out. It’s still up there now, as a matter of fact, so if you haven’t tried it out, don’t know what it is, and have a PS4 handy to try it out on, by all means, jump in and give it a shot before you go on, because I’m about to spoil it a bit.

For those who either have already played it, don’t have a PS4, or just don’t feel like being bothered playing it, read on.

Now, I’ll openly admit, I went into P.T. knowing what it was, but as I have a friend in town who had no idea what it was, I thought this would be a good litmus test to see how effective this “Public Test” is, and I’d say it does its job well enough. For those who are coming into this new, the demo essentially starts off in a room, only to task you with a simple assignment: wander the same thirty second long hallway, repeatedly, until you solve the riddle of the demo and escape. For those who had a brief flash of House of Leaves at that description, you wouldn’t be wrong to have that thought, as repeated progression through the hall slowly causes it to deteriorate in various ways, that are both subtle and… dramatically less so.

Now, the interesting point of the demo is that it tells you basically nothing about how you’re supposed to make progress, meaning that the first few sections go by fairly simply, while the next few end up acting as stumbling blocks, as you have to make a lot of educated guesses (for example, that R3 zooms in the camera on an object, or that you have to press X at one point based on context clues) to make progress. The ending sequence is far and away the most obtuse thing I’ve seen in a game in some time, as you either have to make some very specific movements or use the PS4 microphone in order to complete it properly, which isn’t the first thing you’d think of when trying to complete the sequence. This is by design, however, partly because the demo is meant to be incredibly creepy and borderline terrifying, and partly because solving the mystery of the demo was meant to take some time prior to the big reveal at the end.

For those who would like to see the reveal themselves before reading it here, well, good luck with that, but we’re about to spoil it so this is the last warning you get.

Anyway, upon completion of the demo, the game more or less tells you outright that whatever is going on has something to do with the creepy sequence of numbers that was being read off, the murder of the family discussed in the beginning of the demo, and specifically, the child (presumably the unborn one) who was murdered. How much of that is actually a part of what’s going on and how much of it is meant to be a red herring is left purposely unclear, of course, but the two main things to take away from this Public Test are this shot at the end:

And this title fade-in that comes immediately after:

So, yeah, this was one big tease for the next Silent Hill game, dubbed, interestingly enough, Silent Hills.

Fans of the site will almost certainly know my opinion of the Silent Hill franchise at this point, but for those who are coming in late, I’m of the (not entirely unpopular) mind that the first four games in the series are of variable quality from “okay” (Silent Hill 4: The Room) to “very good” (Silent Hill 3 and, on a good day, Silent Hill 2), but once the franchise was handed off to people who weren’t Team Silent, the franchise started into a massive downhill slide from which it has yet to recover. The reasons for this, from outside observation, generally tend to be

1.) a lack of understanding of how Silent Hill works in general,
2.) the constant need to keep remaking Silent Hill 2 instead of doing something else,
3.) the lack of understanding that what made Silent Hill 2 work was that James always does what he does and the plot handles how he deals with it, not that being a good person in the game will somehow retroactively change the past, and
4.) the handing off of the games to some of the worst developers in God’s creation (Climax, Double Helix),

though we can at least partially excuse the fourth one, since even when the franchise was handed to a good developer in WayForward, they still cranked out a horrid game.

Well, by all indications, Silent Hills seems like it might well be a return to form, and one that’s been a long time coming for the series, but I’m not entirely convinced just yet.

Now, at first glance, everything that’s here is basically amazing. The demo was crafted in a way that’s immediately creepy and messed up, and while it doesn’t quite scream Silent Hill, it screams “weird horror,” which is almost as good. The game is being developed by Kojima Productions, and Hideo Kojima himself is at the helm for this one, which is great because he’s actually said that he wanted to make a game in the franchise for a long time. Further, the game has both Guillermo del Toro and Norman Reedus attached to it; the former being a man who has a love for horror (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, his vocal want to make a film based on At the Mountains of Madness) and the latter being a strong actor who’s no stranger to video game work. It also helps that del Toro himself was interested, at one point, in making a video game, so it’s safe to say that he’s got plenty of ideas to bring to the table, and since this is definitely being handled by a team that knows what they’re doing, using an engine that doesn’t suck, it should be an easy swing and a hit, right?

To which I say, let’s step back a bit. Consider the following:

1.) I can’t really say anything about Guillermo del Toro’s involvement one way or the other; he’s an amazing director who’s crafted all kinds of films that speak to my tastes, and he clearly loves Lovecraft, so he’s almost certainly coming into the project with the right ideas in mind. However, back in 2010, he was announced to be working on a game, inSANE, with Volition, under THQ’s banner, until they cancelled it in 2012 as a cost cutting measure. Now, as we’ve seen with the Saint’s Row franchise, Volition has a pretty good idea of how to make a game, so it’s confusing that THQ would cancel the game, even with their financial troubles, given that del Toro has some solid name recognition. The fact that the IP rights reverted to del Toro, and he’s apparently still pushing to get the game developed and published, is somewhat more interesting, but it brings one to wonder… he last commented on this in November of 2012, nearly two years ago, and we’ve basically seen nothing since then. That we’ve seen nothing on the game since its cancellation, and that we haven’t seen a publisher even sniff at picking it up, says a lot, and none of what it says is very kind.

2.) Hideo Kojima, on the other hand, is much easier to question. There are a few different questions that might come to mind, but in particular two stand out as being problematic. First, this is Kojima’s first actual horror game ever, with the closest he’s come to making one prior to this being Snatcher, which, while very good, isn’t a good indicator of how he’ll handle Silent Hills. Further, the only other game we can look at that might give us a frame of reference, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, was not only a pretty poor experience in general, but according to the folks at MercurySteam Kojima wasn’t even involved in the process anyway so that’s not an indication of anything… or perhaps it is. We’ll see.

3.) Kojima Productions is generally a great development house, and what we’ve seen of the Fox Engine is generally good so far, but it’ll be interesting to see how it handles a survival horror game (though if it can handle a soccer game and Metal Gear Solid V one assumes it’ll be fine). Further, however, it’ll be interesting to see how the team handles a survival horror game. They’re used to games where survival is key with the MGS series, but one has to wonder if they’ll be able to make it a survival horror experience, or if it’ll end up showing shades of MGS in the end.

4.) Norman Reedus was in The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct and that should stand with no further comment.

Now, to be honest, I absolutely want Silent Hills to be awesome. I’m tired of playing terrible releases in the series and wondering how much longer it’s going to be before Konami goes out of business. I want this to be an amazing game, one with a plot that doesn’t try to retell Silent Hill 2 again. I’m hoping this will be an awesome piece of business, just like all of you are, and if it can manage to be half as good as the original games, it’ll still be twice as good as the modern games have been. With so much talent at the helm it’s almost a guarantee it’ll be a masterpiece, and even if the end result isn’t Silent Hill, it can still be a new start for the series that’s completely removed from the crap that came before it.

If it isn’t, however, all I’m saying is, don’t be too surprised.

Here’s hoping.