Could Silent Hills P.T. Mark the Rebirth of AAA Horror?

When we were young, we all were terrified by the blocky polygons of the first Resident Evil. The shocking “dog through the window” scene remains one of the scariest moments in gaming history, defining the series as the forerunner of survival horror. The second pillar of survival horror, Silent Hill, stood beside Resident Evil as an icon with its gruesome imagery and terrifying ambiance. It’s depressing to see how far they’ve both fallen. With the rampant explosions of Resident Evil 6 and the rigged controls of Silent Hill: Downpour, the AAA horror market has become a shell of its former self. But in this darkest hour we’re seeing a glint of hope. P.T. could be the shot in the neck the AAA horror market needs to rise again.

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In its early years, survival horror was the sole domain of AAA developers, but as the aughts ended, the genre fell on bad times. Resident Evil 4′s colossal success ironically spelled doom for the series, as it encouraged Capcom to shift focus from horror to action set-pieces. Silent Hill had its own problems with clunky controls and archaic design, and the American developers who took the reins had no idea how to handle it. Some unexpected curve balls were thrown across the AAA field – Resident Evil: Revelations and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories – but both were knocked out of the park by the work of the indie scene. Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent stripped itself of distracting action and reveled in Lovecraftian weird horror, and in the process breathed new life (undeath?) into the genre. The indie revolution continued with heavily-promoted games like Outlast, while free-to-play hits like One Late Night and Slender: The Eight Pages earned popularity with the help of horror-focused Let’s Play channels on Youtube. It seemed as though the market had moved past big-budget horror games in favor of cheaper games with artful atmosphere.

Then came Gamescom 2014 and with it, the unexpected return of Silent Hill. The newest game in the series, dubbed Silent Hills, will be helmed by none other than Hideo Kojima in partnership with modern horror visionary Guillermo del Toro. The reveal came in the form of a cryptic game called P.T. (“Playable Teaser”) that was released for free on PSN in the midst of the German conference. P.T. features a small collection of rooms and puzzles in an endlessly looping hallway. Players must solve puzzles by examining objects closely and following audio cues. The short demo has garnered praise from fans and newcomers alike for its relentless horror (praise often voiced in shaky, harrowed tones).

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P.T. has been confirmed to have no narrative connection to Silent Hills, but it displays a kind of game design that you wouldn’t expect from AAA devs. There are no guns and no real enemies, just a quiet hallway with flickering lights and eerie ambiance. Oddly enough, it’s the kind of minimalist setting you’d see in an indie horror game. Games like One Late Night and Slender are quaint and believable, just like the timid household setting of classic horror cinema like Halloween. P.T. brings the horror down to our level, eliminating the thousands of zombies that have clouded our portrayal of horror. It feels disturbingly real.

But P.T.’s greatest strength is its total focus on the use of your senses. Any great horror filmmaker will tell you that making the audience scan the screen for danger and strain their ears is a great way to get them immersed and scared. It’s what you glimpse in the corner of your eye that instills real terror. P.T.’s challenges require the player to look hard and listen carefully. They need to examine items closely and listen to the slightest sounds for clues to progress. When a player is that engaged, they’re ripe for the scare. P.T. is fueled by the same juice that powers all of the most iconic horror scenes in film, television, and games alike.

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P.T. succeeds because it learns from the successes of the independent horror developers. While the AAA horror games have been sacrificing fear for firefights, P.T. cools all that bombast down and lets the fear percolate organically. There are no distractions in P.T., just pure, concentrated terror. P.T. is lean and mean, the very antithesis of bloated AAA games. Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro are turning the climate of AAA horror on its head, invigorating the stripped-down fear of the indie horror collective with their big budget technical chops. P.T. could be the catalyst for the AAA horror scene’s rebirth, and it gives fans what they’ve been wanting for over a decade: a reason to fear Silent Hill again. If Silent Hills follows in P.T.‘s shadowy footsteps, AAA games could reclaim the blood-covered horror throne once more.