Notes on P.T

1. P.T is a ‘playable teaser’ that serves as the reveal for Kojima and Del Toro’s upcoming Silent Hills. It is, on its own, a spectacularly confident game and a finely honed horror experience.

2. A single corridor. The player, moving the character in first-person with slow, delayed kind of meaty first-person controls, walks down a single corridor, past a clock. The corridor turns to the right at a window where there is another door on the right, an alcove up ahead, and, beyond that, another door. The door right at the end will, once you walk through it, take you back to the door at the start of the corridor. The game loops over and over in a literalisation of the Groundhog Day rhythms of playing any videogame. Each time, something about the corridor is slightly different: a door ajar, a broken light, a muttering radio station or dreadful silence. Or, sometimes, nothing is different at all, and the frights from the previous cycle are still just sitting there, now strangely comforting in their familiarity. It is when they disappear again that you get worried.

3. The intimacy you feel with this corridor over time is deep. You learn its every alcove, every possible corner something might jump out at you from (but they always find somewhere else). The simple corridor is delicately designed. Simple things like needing to turn a corner, with that bathroom door just to your right are so deliberate. Each cycle you hold your breath as you turn that corner, just waiting for the cycle that they inevitably go for the cheap scare. You could turn before you get to the corner and sidestep up to it, but then what if something attacks from the window? Or from the small alcove behind you? There is always somewhere you aren’t looking, and the game is paying very close attention to that. But then you turn that corner and, every time, the entirety of this cycle reveals itself to you: is the bathroom door closed, open, or ajar; what colour is the light down towards the other door; is the door at the end of the corridor open or closed? Each cycle is split into these two parts: the reluctant and tense walk down the first part of the corridor, and the slow hesitant turn to look down the second part of the corridor to see what has been put before you this time.

4. The looping over-and-over rhythm of the game works exquisitely to instil a deep, bubbling sense of terror. The game doesn’t throw scares at you ever second, but you feel like it could throw scares at you any second. Even if you are stuck in a loop, the same corridor repeating over and over as you try to figure out if you are meant to be doing something to progress or if you just have to keep going, it still feels like something could attack you at any moment. Many horror games, you can confidently expect no more scares until you figure out how to progress; in P.T you are not sure if you are progressing or not, so the scares could come at any moment. 

5. More on ‘getting stuck’. Teaser reveals for different games are often deliberately obtuse puzzles that require a community to come together and solve (and be advertised at and be part of the advertisement themselves). Portal 2‘s reveal is a good example of this. That kind of deliberate obtuseness mostly works in P.T‘s favour. It’s interesting because, playing alone, you can become incredibly stuck. Later cycles require you zooming in on the most obscure little scraps of paper to trigger the next cycle. Sometimes it is unclear if the game has started again or if it is still going. I used an online guide at multiple points just to keep going. Just how you make the final cycle trigger is still, it seems, being contested on various forums. I couldn’t make it happen, but I kind of like that. I like that the game defeated me. It, eventually, got to a point where I was so mentally and physically exhausted from how on-edge this game had made me over a couple of hours that I just had to stop. But my point here is this: P.T doesn’t have to concern itself with conventional notions of clarity or intuitiveness because of what it is trying to achieve, and for a game where you (both player and character) are trapped in this hellish corridor for eternity, that works in its favour.

6. Also talking about the rhythm of the game, I was impressed at how confident it was not to exploit every opportunity for a jump scare. Early on it hits you hard, throwing things in your vision and revealing what the ‘thing’ looks like very explicitly. I assumed this was the end of the game, when it happened, and cursed when it wasn’t. But by revealing things so early with such a blatant jump scare, the game then had me exactly where it wanted. It punched me once and then laughed at me every time I flinched when it moved a finger. “Just hit me already, damn it!” I actually yelled at the television at one point, later on, as I ran into a room I’d been avoiding only to have nothing happen. It was hell. Other times, something will change slightly just to freak you out. But then you get used to that change over multiple cycles. And then the game sets it back to how it was before and freaks you out all over again.

7. Once you get the flashlight, you can, if you are gentle on the controller, move the light around without moving your head. Move the right thumbstick to the left and the torch light goes to the left a moment before the head does. This allows you to stand before a wall or a cabinet and gently wash your torchlight over it while standing still, without requiring any more buttons. I really liked this, that the torch wasn’t tied to my character’s neck, and its a subtle form of aiming I’d love to see more of. 

8. P.T feels like what happens when the resources and labour of a large studio (and a large publisher) aren’t constrained to normative ideas of what a $60 triple-a game must be like with certain amounts of ‘content’ and ‘choice’ and ‘interaction’, whatever any of those words mean. Except, of course, P.T is constrained to normative ideas of what the advertising for a $60 triple-a game must be like (over-the-top, polished, self important, a puzzle in its own right). But in itself, as its own experience, it feels like a snapshot of what is possible when a large, well-funded studio/publisher works on something small and focused instead of the usual need to always be bigger and better and more (even the title of the game P.T is marketing, Silent Hills, points to a ‘more’ attitude with its pluralisation). 

9. I hope we see more playable teasers like P.T.

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