Wednesday, October 21, 2020


Back on August 12, 2014, Konami released a mysterious game called P.T., developed by the equally mysterious 7780s Studio. Within mere hours, however, players quickly discovered that P.T. was actually a teaser for Silent Hills. In spite of the enthusiasm for the title, however, an internal struggle between Konami and Hideo Kojima led to the game’s cancellation, then P.T.’s delisting and deletion in 2015. This move instantly made P.T. rare and elusive and the Silent Hill series is seemingly abandoned, with no new full entries since 2012’s Silent Hill: Downpour, the eighth main installment, and Silent Hill: Book of Memories, a dungeon crawler spinoff released for the PlayStation Vita. Since I still own a copy of P.T., but never got around to talking about it, I figured that now’s as good a time as any, especially since the experience still holds up as a masterpiece of horror.

As it looks like there won’t be any way for new players to access this game on PS4 for the foreseeable future, I’ll include a full synopsis here instead of a short premise.

Everything changes beyond this door.

P.T. begins with the protagonist waking up in a small, dark concrete room with only one light source and a table with a bloodied bag in the corner. After exiting through the door, the protagonist finds himself in an L-shaped hallway with three other doors, the bathroom, a permanently locked front door and a stairway leading to the hallway exit. A radio also gives a news report about two familicidal fathers. Nothing seems out of the ordinary until the protagonist leaves through the door at the bottom of the stairs, leading him to back to the beginning of the hallway.

Get used to this hallway.

From this point on, the protagonist walks through a series of loops of the same hallway, but with new details each time. As the protagonist advances through each loop, it takes on increasingly bizarre and paranormal features, like a window shattering out of nowhere or a fridge hanging from the ceiling from chains. In one loop, he encounters a ghost woman named Lisa who quickly disappears. In another, he finds a crying fetus in a bathroom sink. After a couple more loops, the radio plays cryptic messages and Lisa kills the protagonist, but he wakes up again in the concrete room, no worse for wear.

At this point, a cryptic sentence, “I can hear them calling to me from”, appears on the wall and, after some back-and-forth on part of the protagonist, completes itself with the word “HELL”. After a couple more loops, including one where the hanging fridge is replaced with a red light, the hallways become a distorted red with pictures of moving eyes and feels like a never-ending maze until the protagonist finds a peephole peeking into the bathroom and hears a rant from the radio about class disparity. Once the rant ends, the hallway returns to normal and the protagonist can enter the bathroom to hear the fetus speak directly to him.

When it seems that the protagonist is in the clear, he’s unable to escape the hallway and can only roam around until the screen glitches out, a voice repeats the number “204863” and the game seemingly crashes. This leads the protagonist to wake up back in the concrete room, but exiting through the door leads him into the final loop. After completing a series of tasks, he receives a phone call where he only hears “You have been chosen” and can finally leave the house for good. It is here that a cutscene plays, revealing the protagonist as a man portrayed by Norman Reedus, as well as P.T.'s true nature as a Playable Teaser for the game Silent Hills (but more on that later).

Norman Reedus as seen in the ending trailer.

While there isn’t much of a story to speak of in P.T., there is the background story involving Lisa, though the player has to connect the dots to figure it out. From what we can gather, the most concrete details about Lisa are that she was shot in the stomach by her husband, her eye also gouged out. Everything beyond that is up to player debate and speculation. For instance, the fact that Lisa haunts the hallway suggests that she once lived there and the fetus in the sink is either a representation or manifestation of her unborn child. Regarding the fetus, its speech to the player talks about an unspecified man who, ten months earlier, lost his job and turned to alcoholism. The man’s wife then worked part-time as a cashier for financial support, but the manager was sexually attracted to her. Though it’s not completely clear, one could assume that the fetus was conceived from this affair and that the woman was Lisa herself. Less clear is the identity of the husband, specifically whether or not he and the protagonist are one and the same. I personally thought the protagonist somehow found himself in the wrong place, since he was also billed as the protagonist of Silent Hills, but we’ll never quite know for sure.

On the surface, there isn’t much to P.T.’s core gameplay loop of walking down the same hallway and solving puzzles, not to mention looking at objects with R3, but the hallway itself is the game’s greatest strength. On a first playthrough, the gradual changes to its appearance play into a primal fear of the unknown and the player’s general curiosity, as the only way to make it out of the house is facing whatever is around the corner. I remember feeling genuinely terrified the first time largely from the possibility that Lisa could attack me at any moment. This fear actually isn’t unfounded, since there’s always a chance that Lisa could possess the player and kill them if they simply turn around. In fact, there’s even evidence that she could do this in the starting room, so you’re never completely safe from her.

You're never truly safe from Lisa.

I’ll admit that the game is somewhat less scary when you’re more familiar with the environment and how it’s supposed to change. Lisa’s random chance of attacking you, however, which apparently can even occur if you pause the game for too long, does enough to keep players on their toes. I can personally confirm, however, that it is indeed possible to complete P.T. without Lisa attacking you.

Then, of course, there are the puzzles. There aren’t that many and they’re pretty simple, but they also fit the atmosphere. During one loop, you come across a picture frame that says “Gouge it out!” and has a big blue X on it, telegraphing that you need to press the Cross button in front of the photo. Soon after is the aforementioned “I can hear them calling me from HELL” puzzle, which simply involves moving back and forth between two locations.

Out of all the puzzles, however, the one that got the most discussion is the final one, where the player has to complete a series of tasks to hear a baby’s laugh three times, then answer the phone by observing it with R3. The method to get the first and third laugh is consistent, but the second laugh is consistently inconsistent, since players had all found different solutions. For the sake of this review, I’ll describe what worked for me:

1) To get the first laugh, wait until after the clock strikes midnight. Wait for the chimes to end, then walk ten steps forward in any direction, even against a wall.

2) After the first laugh, make sure a microphone is plugged in and, in a loud clear voice, say anything with a “J” sound (I said “Kojima”) and wait a moment to get the second baby laugh. You may need to try this multiple times.

3) Right after the second laugh, freeze and don’t touch any part of the controller, which will start vibrating. As soon as it stops vibrating, you’ll hear the phone ring. Go to the phone and look at it with R3 and you’ll hear a voice say “You have been chosen.” You are now free to leave the house through the hallway exit and watch the Silent Hills reveal.

If there’s anything that annoyed me, it’s not just the inconsistent method to get the second baby laugh, but also an additional optional puzzle. By looking at specific spots in the hallway with R3, you’ll find pieces of a photograph, though the sixth piece requires pressing R3 in the pause menu (itself a mildly jumpy surprise). Collecting all six pieces will reassemble a photo of Lisa and make you immune to a scripted jumpscare about halfway through the game, marked by a locked door and the radio saying, “Turn around. I said, turn around.”, at which point you have to turn around and get killed by Lisa. This only works, however, if you reassemble the picture before this loop. On my first playthrough, completing this puzzle successfully allowed me to bypass the jumpscare. However, on my most recent playthrough, this didn’t work, which made facing the inevitable Lisa jumpscare more frustrating than frightening, since I didn’t know what went wrong. After a little research, I realized that I didn’t look at the completed photo with R3 that time, so it was definitely my own fault.

Completing this photo (and looking at it) makes you immune to Lisa's attack.

What really helps sell the horror is the photorealistic graphics. Every object is rendered in stunning detail, even the horrific elements like Lisa or the crying fetus, to where you’d almost confuse certain screenshots with live-action. The lighting also helps build and maintain an atmosphere of fear through uncertainty, since whether the hallway is well-lit, dimmed or red depends entirely on the loop. Considering it was rendered with the Fox Engine, the technology that powered Metal Gear Solid V, it makes sense why it would look so incredible. What surprised me, however, was learning that Kojima Productions intentionally toned down the graphics, which included locking the framerate at 30FPS, to give the impression that an indie studio had made P.T., which only made me wonder what it would’ve looked like at full power.

I also appreciate how the audio contributes to P.T.’s unsettling nature, since outside of the radio broadcasts, the background audio is mostly ambient noise. This allows Lisa’s breathing or the sounds of her hauntings to come through much clearer, creating an even greater fear of running into her at the wrong time. The sound of her jumpscare is also very effective, since it still got me a little even when I was frustrated at the idea of experiencing it.

Unfortunately, despite the popularity and positive reception to P.T., including over a million downloads, it wound up an unfortunate crossfire victim of the falling out between Konami and Hideo Kojima. No one knows the exact circumstances behind it, but whatever happened caused Konami to not only cancel Silent Hills, but also apply a scorched earth strategy to any trace of P.T.’s existence. On April 29, 2015, about eight-and-a-half months after its release, Konami delisted the game from the PlayStation Store, which meant that if anyone had already downloaded it, they could still redownload it later. However, just a week later, around May 5, 2015, it was confirmed that Konami had deleted P.T. from Sony’s servers, meaning that if you delete the game from your PS4, you’ll permanently lose access to it. As a result, PS4 systems with P.T. already installed on them were listed on eBay for well over $1000 (and as of this writing, some are still listed for hundreds of dollars).

The disclaimer from the beginning of P.T.

While players are still discovering new things about P.T., at the time of this writing, there have also been attempts at fan-made remakes to keep the game alive. Notable attempts include an October 2014 remake in Microsoft’s Project Spark that died along with the service in August 2016; a July 2018 remake shut down by Konami for legal issues, though Konami offered the developer an internship; and a near-perfect January 2019 remake using the Unreal Engine that the developer then pulled within the same month.

Even without a stable way to play a full version of the game, however, that hasn’t stopped developers from creating experiences similar to or inspired by P.T. or making allusions to the game. Hideo Kojima, for instance reused audio from P.T. as an easter egg in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. An unreleased game, Allison Road, took heavy inspiration from P.T. but involved exploring a full house and would include additional core mechanics not found in P.T., like an inventory system. Visage, a game still in development as of this writing, follows a similar setup to Allison Road, though the framing device for exploring a house is different and it puts its own spins on the P.T. formula. Two fully-released games, Layers of Fear and The Park, are both considered spiritual successors of P.T. for their focus on first-person exploration and object interaction, though the former took more explicit and direct influence.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard also drew comparisons to P.T., partially due to the release and presentation of its Beginning Hour demo, which featured a first-person perspective as the player explored a derelict house and solved cryptic puzzles. However, Resident Evil 7 was already in development as a first-person game well before P.T.’s own development. Jordan Amaro, who previously worked in a supporting role on P.T. at Kojima Productions before going to Capcom for Resident Evil 7’s development, confirmed this and added that Silent Hills would have been a different experience from Resident Evil 7 anyway.

From a Rolling Stone interview with Jordan Amaro
(you have no idea how hard it was to find this).

Sadly, we may never really know what direction Silent Hills would have taken, especially since the teaser itself stated it didn’t represent the final game. Though the games inspired by P.T. in some capacity have filled the void with a fully atmospheric first-person experience, the Silent Hills trailer switching to third-person, showing Norman Reedus, might indicate that the full game would have seen a shift back to the series’ traditional third-person camera. I also wouldn’t be surprised if their direction also incorporated more of the series’ traditional mechanics, including a combat system, but with a trademark Hideo Kojima twist.

Perhaps the reason P.T. has lingered in the minds of many for so long is how its existence, or lack thereof, embodies missed opportunity and the thought of what could have been. Silent Hills not only had Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro as co-directors, Norman Reedus would play the lead role and famous horror mangaka Junji Ito would have been the lead monster designer. This group would collaborate again on Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, with Norman Reedus again in the lead role, Guillermo del Toro’s likeness in a supporting role and Junji Ito as a cameo, though it’s really not the same.

The true nature of Silent Hills may forever remain a mystery.

Interestingly, P.T. and Silent Hills also have a very strange, if merely coincidental, connection to the Five Nights at Freddy's series. P.T. released the same week as the original Five Nights at Freddy's and, in a stroke of bad timing, the cancellation of Silent Hills occurred the exact same day as the announcement of Five Nights at Freddy's 4, April 27, 2015. For another interesting bit of trivia, the name 7780s Studio references the square kilometer area of Shizuoka Prefecture, whose name translates to "Quiet Hills".

Additionally, during the time between when I wrote this review and posted it, Konami has confirmed that since P.T. was delisted, it cannot be redownloaded onto a PS5 through the backwards compatibility feature. This would mean that, at the time of this writing, unless you can transfer it with the aid of an external hard drive, P.T. is stuck on eighth generation hardware. Not an unexpected outcome, but hopefully one that can be avoided for the sake of preservation.

Five years after its disappearance, P.T. remains one of the best horror games I’ve ever played. Its commitment to atmosphere and instilling fear in a more primal sense makes it all the more memorable and ensures that it will stay firmly on my PS4’s hard drive until the end of time (or something else makes it unplayable, whichever comes first). Unfortunately, there’s still no legal way for any new players to experience the game in its full glory outside of watching the myriad of YouTube footage of people either playing the game or analyzing every square inch of it. Fortunately, there are options if someone wants at least a similar experience. For this, I would recommend Resident Evil 7 Teaser Demo: Beginning Hour, which, like P.T., is completely free and takes place in an enclosed space. If Beginning Hour is unavailable, then go with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard or any of the more directly inspired projects that intrigues you.

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