In August 2014, the PlayStation Store was gifted a demo for a survival horror game that would become an unprecedented success in gaming history. P.T., or upon completion of the game revealed as Silent Hills, was to be the upcoming collaborative project between eccentric mastermind Hideo Kojima and veteran horror filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. Unfortunately, the fallout between Kojima and Konami proved to be fatal to this promising entry, and the project was scrapped entirely. However, in its wake came many spiritual successors that reignited a unique style of horror that the genre seems to be gearing towards now. So what made P.T. such a standout hit in a market already saturated by first-person horrors like Outlast and Amnesia? And furthermore, why are horror video games increasingly potent and terrifying now than they ever were?
Firstly, let’s look a bit deeper into the game that would’ve been Silent Hills. It’s not everyday that several major players in the wider spectrum of entertainment could collaborate on this scale for a single video game. Apart from Kojima and Del Toro, actor Norman Reedus (best known as Daryl from The Walking Dead) lent his star power in the leading role, with creature designs being worked on by legendary horror manga storyteller, Junji Ito. With such a powerhouse dream team behind the project, the promise of something beyond our understanding and expectations was irresistible. But with Kojima’s already rocky relationship with Konami, Silent Hills was doomed before it could leave the runway. Sony’s recent partnership with Kojima may have lead to the production of another very promising sci-fi thriller, Death Stranding, but the impact of P.T. was felt deeply within the horror gaming community – so much so, that the mantle would be picked up by Capcom a few years later.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, for what it’s worth, is a superb survival horror that put the legendary franchise back on the map. With a more refined focus on the horror aspect over action, the series is arguably back in top shape. Despite Capcom stating that the project was in development before P.T., there’s simply no way of looking around the obvious stylistic choices that Silent Hills inadvertently paved for it. This is not to say it’s a negative thing. In fact, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard has already received its fair share of critical acclaim as a result. It may be the closest semblance of Silent Hills we will ever get, and nobody besides the passionate P.T. defenders seems to be complaining. However, the question still remains: if Outlast and Amnesia were already making waves in the horror community before P.T. came along, then why is P.T. still put on a high pedestal?
Despite it’s similarities in the first-person horror elements (something that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard utilized to some amazingly frightening degrees while combining it with a traditional RE style), P.T. boasted a very distinctive difference from the likes of Outlast and Amnesia; quality. While not to discredit the two games for their quality, as Outlast and especially Amnesia do pack quite a ton of great, effective scares, P.T. played more on a psychological horror level expected of triple-A developers. The premise of trudging down the same, infinitely looped hallway may seem repetitive, but thanks to some expertly crafted scares and effective tension, the game took on a nightmarish fever dream of horror – something that forced its way under your skin and eventually into your psyche as a gamer. This repetitive gameplay mechanic became its strongest selling point and a key component as to why P.T. left its stigmatic mark. The exact same can be said about Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which thanks to its return to form from the first games’ mansion setting, players were forced to familiarize with the Bakers plantation and thus, Capcom were given leeway to craft up some frightening scares to subvert expectations on a whim.
Boosting off the success (or failure) of P.T. came a few indie-horror games proudly wearing its spiritual successor badge. Allison Road, a first-person indie-horror title funded primarily through Kickstarter, takes us back to the confined spaces of empty hallways and unnerving tension that defined P.T. Admittedly, it does seem to recapture that same claustrophobic, paper-thin suspense of its successor, along with supernatural twists and creepy environments to earn the stamp of approval as a potentially incredible horror experience. Once again, Allison Road is immediately differentiated from the more popular indie-horror titles like Outlast due to its acute sense of terror and psychological unrest – something that the aforementioned Outlast and Amnesia only barely got by on the premise of jump scares and cheap thrills but negating the potential for true atmospheric fear.
The successors don’t stop here. Since it’s cancellation in 2015, companies have jumped at the opportunity to deliver the game we could’ve had with Silent Hills. Playing it much closer thematically and stylistically than Allison Road, however, is also a Kickstarter-funded project called Visage. On the surface, Visage and Allison Road could be interchangeable. Both games are set primarily in a strange, foreboding household with the first-person mechanic front and center. However, where Allison Road seems to want to be its own game despite lending inspiration from P.T., Visage is more inclined to replicate the exact tone and style that the final product would’ve been heading for. From the many gameplay clips we’ve seen of Visage, the mind-games and unreliable, sinister environments all seem to be working in full effect. The house, like the setting of P.T., takes on a character of its own. Unlike Allison Road which emphasizes its paranormal scares, Visage plays on a much more primal level of fear; a relentless, visceral terror that finds its scares not only in the paranormal but the players mindset and understanding of the world.
It truly saddens me to send off Silent Hills in the bittersweet swan song, leaving behind a trail of what if’s and what could’ve been, but the post-impact reality of the cancellation is equally as intriguing. Without it, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard seemingly wouldn’t have reached the pinnacle of mainstream horror that it is right now, and Allison Road and Visage would be non-existent – something to think about if the horror genre would continue going in the direction of run-and-hide simulators. Despite only ever existing as a playable teaser, P.T. single-handedly created a new, primitive style of horror that opened up many more doors for refreshing ideas to be injected into the genre – the catalyst to usher in a new age of creativity. Rest easy, Kojima.