You know the story: In August 2014, filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro and Hideo Kojima released a Playable Teaser for their new Silent Hills game – a few hours of tight, tense gameplay that managed to completely subvert everything we thought a modern horror should be.
Of course, Konami swiftly cemented their rep as a collective of massive bellends, and Silent Hills got canned. Soon after, P.T was removed from the PlayStation Store in an attempt to erase all memory of the title and horror fans and gamers from all around were gutted – but I happen to think these events (however crappy) may have been for the best.
See, Silent Hills might well have ended up nothing like P.T, and I reckon it’s fair to say that the legacy of P.T, and the idea of what could have been, has actually had a fantastic effect on the indie horror scene.
Videogames like Allison Road, Layers of Fear, and Visage are now all eager to step up and deliver an experience that aims to fuck with your mind, rather than throw jump scares and gory set-pieces at you until your eyes gloss over and you turn your console off.
Jonathan Gagné, Co-Founder of SadSquare Studio and programmer on new Kickstarter horror Visage believes that P.T. is solely responsible for this upsurge in psych horror games.
P.T. is pretty much solely responsible. There aren’t a whole lot of horror games on the market, let alone good ones. Now… Every good ol’ horror fan hears about “A game developed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro”. Well, what happens then… Every single horror fan believes the best horror game to be ever released is coming. Then, it’s cancelled. P.T. had huge influence, but I think the hype comes from the promise of the holy grail of horror games.
However Rafal Basaj, developer on Layers of Fear reckons that the demand for psychological horror games has been bubbling away for a while now, and that P.T. merely proved there was a demand.
I believe it was something that was building up in horror fans for a while – a type of a game devoid of fighting enemies and running away from battles you cannot win. A horror where the tension isn’t built by the threat of dying, but by the atmosphere of dread and of the unknown. A different type of the horror genre – a more subtle one. The market is devoid of such productions probably because a lot of publishers thought that a game with scarce action has little potential in the world of fast paced FPS shooters. The success of P.T. proved that there indeed is a huge demand for games like this.
Let’s be real: Stalwart horror franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hills got progressively worse with each entry. You can argue that the gameplay got tighter (the voice acting certainly improved), but they got less scary. Resident Evil 5, for all its gung-ho shotgun slinging action will never have the same effect as the original Resident Evil, and the many mysteries of that creaky old mansion.
Now I may be wrong – but isn’t the real point of a horror game to scare you?
With that in mind, it’s not a stretch to imagine that gamers who were just after a good old fashioned scare could grow increasingly disillusioned with big brand horror titles . So, why haven’t the AAA devs been scrambling to deliver a truly chilling experience? Why has it been left to the indie scene to meet what seems to be a clear demand?
Basaj likens it to the film industry. He reasons that ambitious films, films that dare to be different are always the ones that are handed a smaller budget. In short: they aren’t guaranteed to be a smash, so why bother? He explains that psychological horrors may have carved out a large niche for themselves in the wake of P.T., but they are ultimately still a niche.
In this case, Gagné agrees:
It’s a scary trend, the horror trend. There’s so many factors that come into play as to why giants don’t want to take these kind of games. But really, it all comes to one thing: horror isn’t popular. Or at least, not as popular as any of the other genres.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising then, that P.T. – despite becoming something of legend in such a short space of time – probably won’t have much of a lasting effect on the videogame industry at large. At the very least, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that it’s success played a part in spurring on the creation of (and hopefully the sales) of the likes of Layers of Fear and Visage.
And while we probably won’t see any blockbuster releases that take a leaf out of P.T’s book (at least anytime soon), could it be a new dawn for the indie horror scene if Gagné and Basaj’s projects go down well? Well, Gagné believes that the whole thing is nothing more than a flash in the pan and that after a few games the need will be met.
Meanwhile, Basaj sees the urge for a good old fashioned horror game as something of a constantly turning wheel:
It’s a kind of cycle that comes and goes. We reach out for horror content when we do not feel entirely safe in the world that surrounds us. P.T. has opened new gates of our imagination, proved that we could do more in the genre and showed that it is constantly evolving. Based on this we can presume that more games like P.T. and Layers of Fear will emerge and that horror games will also expand into new territories changing along the way.
We have to say, Allison Road, Layers of Fear, and Visage all look like incredible titles, each with their own twisted spin on the horror genre. If all we ever get from P.T.’s legacy is these three creative indie titles, that’s more than enough in my eyes. Undeniably a job well done for what was only meant to be a brief teaser for an ultimately cancelled videogame.