P.T. Is Marketing And Horror Genius

I screamed last night. Like…a lot. You wouldn’t think that a single hallway and a couple of rooms could be all that terrifying, but somehow the PlayStation 4 “playable trailer” known as P.T. manages that feat quite nicely. It’s a teaser for a new Silent Hill game, it turns out, and it’s one of the most brilliant pieces of games marketing to date.

Yesterday, a mysterious free game called P.T. popped up on the PlayStation Network for the PS4. Next to nothing was known about the game and the supposed developer, 7780s Studio, doesn’t even exist. That was more than enough to pique the interest of many a gamer. Nobody knew what to expect when they booted P.T. up, but what they got was a scream-a-minute riot.

If you haven’t played P.T. already and would prefer to go in fresh, then you’ll want to stop reading in just a moment. P.T. could be described as one big, terrifying puzzle. A huge part of the fun (if you can call pooping your pants “fun”) is slowly discovering all of the wicked little secrets for yourself. Fair warning, and now we’re moving forward.

When you boot up P.T. you wake up on the floor in a seemingly empty room. In front of you is a door that leads into an L-shaped hallway. There are a few doors in the hallway, as well as an army of empty beer bottles, discarded candy wrappers, pictures of landscapes and people, and a couple of radios. One radio is currently playing a static-filled news report telling the tale of a man who violently murdered his entire family.

When you exit the door at the far end of the hallway, you find yourself standing back where you first began, as if that single corridor somehow broke the laws of physics. From there, what unfolds is a twisting, turning series of trial-and-error discoveries that will bring the player face-to-face with ghostly apparitions, screaming babies, taunting voices and much, much more.

Eventually, you may be lucky enough to trigger a final scene but, as of this writing; nobody seems quite certain which chain of events needs to be completed in order to consistently end the game. The final scene, as we reported yesterday, informs you that P.T. is actually an introduction to Silent Hills, a new game in the legendary horror series that’s being made by none other than Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear series) and Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth). For me, that’s a combination of creative minds and a property I couldn’t have hoped for in my wildest of dreams.

Little else is known about the game. Obviously, it’s heading to the PlayStation 4, but that doesn’t mean that Xbox One and PC are necessarily out of the question. We also know that the game is being built with Kojima’s Fox Engine and, if you’ve seen P.T. in action, then you know that means the game will look absolutely gorgeous. No word on a release date, though.

When asked why there was so much secrecy surrounding P.T., Kojima explained via Twitter that he wanted to add to the sense of fear his audience experienced while playing it.

“When I was small I was only able to watch scary movies just because there’re familiar actors/directors. I knew it was a made up story,” Kojima Tweeted. “But unknown foreign horror films were scary as hell as it lacks info. I intentionally aimed the lack of info to gain fear for ‘PT’.”

And that comment right there, along with what I experienced in P.T., is what has me so excited for Silent Hills. With his Tweet, Kojima has demonstrated an understanding of what makes things scary and how fear works, something that many horror games these days seem to struggle with. The more I think about it, the more it baffles me how much Kojima and his team were able to accomplish with a single hallway, too, meaning that he knows how to get the most out of only a few ingredients in order to create some genuine fear.

Kojima later admitted that he expected players to take quite a bit more time to reach the end of P.T. which, given the complexity and almost random nature of some of the in-game triggers, seems like a perfectly reasonable prospect. Honestly, that would have worked even better for Silent Hills, as community involvement, speculation and buzz would have probably climbed even higher (than it’s already admittedly astronomical level) over the course of, say, a week.

But this type of promotional campaign is exactly what video games need. The intrigue was palpable, the product was deep and polished and the reveal was a big enough surprise to elicit cheers whether or not it was attached to such an elaborate hoax. The fact that it was buried in something like P.T. just made it all the more exciting.

Even better is the fact that P.T. is, according to the post-game info, not representative of the final product. Gameplay, story, mechanics…everything will likely change for the final game. This kind of detached experience works wonderfully for a demo, as it isn’t simply a chunk of content that you’ll be able to find in the actual game. I dare say that Kojima could have avoided quite a bit of ill will had Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes (which lasts about as long as P.T., actually) had been released as a free “demo” for The Phantom Pain, rather than a $30 standalone product.

Finally, what really has me excited for Silent Hills is how well P.T. demonstrates knowledge of what makes that series so wonderful to begin with. We hear twisted tales of a heinous crime in the background while quickly learning that nothing about the world around us can be trusted. Family ties are a deep underlying factor which, again, is a big focus of the Silent Hill series. P.T. relied on a few jump scares, but those were also nicely complemented by plenty of psychological thrills, clever tricks, frightening imagery and chilling ambient sounds. It was, in short, creepy as hell in all of the best ways.

Given Kojima and del Toro’s involvement, I wouldn’t have taken further convincing to be edge-of-my-seat excited for Silent Hills. But what P.T. has done is prove to me that the series is in perhaps the most capable hands it has been in for over a decade. If P.T. is an example of the type of experience we can expect out of this next gen horror game, then it simply can’t get here soon enough.

Ryan Winslett

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.