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Suddenly, Big Budget Games Love Horror Again

The brilliant viral teaser for Hideo Kojima's Silent Hills underscores a new trend of embracing high-end scares. But for how long?

The last person I expected to give video game horror a kick in the ass was Hideo Kojima.

P.T. opens with a door that you'll enter many times. Eventually, you'll want to stop going inside that damn door.

When it comes to promotion, there is no one quite like Kojima. His success with the Metal Gear series may have chained him to the franchise years longer than he wanted, but it's also given him the freedom to go batshit crazy.

In case you missed it, at Sony's Gamescom press conference, it revealed a playable demo for a new and mysterious game, P.T., which was available to download on the PlayStation Store. Nothing else was said about P.T., but Sony employees on Twitter immediately began prodding players to discover its secrets. Later in the day, we discovered P.T., which stands for Playable Teaser, is viral marketing for Silent Hills, a new entry in Konami's horror franchise from Kojima and genre filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.

In other words, Kojima asked Sony, a platform holder at one of the year's biggest events, to lie on stage, avoiding a huge reveal, in service of a surprise. Kojima asked Konami to let him develop a viral game demo that's purposely obtuse, in the hopes that most players will never, ever see what P.T. is hiding inside.

Game unveilings are so boring and predictable these days. A Game Informer cover here, a CG parade there. Then, we prepare for two years of weekly trailers. (I'm looking at you, Ubisoft.) There's no magic, no spectacle. Even if I have problems with Kojima's recent character and plotting choices, I always anticipate his next PR move, knowing that Kojima is the closest we have to J.J. Abrams: creatives who respect the art of mystery.

(Let me cut some Abrams haters off at the pass, too. We're talking about mystery, not answers, and a dedication to playing with audience expectation. Watch his TED talk about the "mystery box" for details.)

Kojima didn't even tease his involvement: his name was a surprise. It's unclear how hands-on Kojima will be with this new Silent Hill, given he was distant from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. But if attaching his name means the team is given the resources to give Silent Hill the revival it deserves, that's good enough for me.

Because lemme tell you, P.T. is remarkable. It might consist of walking the same hallway over and over again, but I haven't been this shaken by a game in years. Only my experiments with hastily made Oculus Rift experiments come close. I measure how well a horror game is working by how quickly I begin backing my face away from the screen, as though just a few more inches will save me from whatever is around the corner. With P.T., one sequence involved me walking down the hallway with my arm nearly covering my face. Real cool, bro.

It's unlikely Silent Hills will actually be structured like P.T. The gameplay mostly involves shuffling through two doors and a hallway. (They are very detailed hallways, however!) There are signs things aren't right, and it's clear this house has seen some evil recently. Each time, the hallway changes. The changes are, at first, subtle, but it doesn't take long before it ramps up. Sound design is critical in any horror experience, and P.T. had me itching to take one of my headphones off--anything to touch the outside world. Just as it feels P.T. will end, the hallway returns to normal, and the player feels safe. Inevitably, that safety is violated. Boo.

The cycle of safety and violation is key to horror. Players need moments to let their guard down, which gives them a breather, and provides an opportunity for the creator to surprise them. P.T.'s repetitive nature actively pulses between these two extremes, often coming right to the edge...before backing off. A shadow in the distance, a face in the window, a footstep around the corner. Most horror cannot resist the temptation to reveal its evil (hi, jump scares!), and P.T. succeeds because it thoughtfully, methodically, painfully waits to try and truly frighten.

Silent Hill deserves this, damnit. We're talking about the groundbreaking series that helped define gaming horror beyond the jump scare. I've slogged through Silent Hill: Homecoming, Downpour, and Shattered Memories. Only Shattered Memories showed any signs of life. Sorry, but I refuse to believe anyone defending Homecoming or Downpour is doing anything but reconciling the hours we've collectively wasted hoping Konami would get it right this time. It's been so long since a Silent Hill game shook us to the core that we're happy with scraps. We go back to the well over and over because we're reminded of what Silent Hill could be.

This was a game I spent time playing. Yuuuuup.

Horror is dead, long live horror.

At least, that's how I've felt lately. Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender: The Eight Pages suggested the independent scene would carry the torch, as Konami looked at Silent Hill with confused indifference and Capcom chased mainstream audiences with Resident Evil. For whatever reason, big budget games had largely given up on horror, even if the genre continues to expand elsewhere. These days, horror is big business on TV (The Strain, The Walking Dead), and has even hung out with summer blockbusters (The Conjuring).

The big test is coming in the next few years, and it'd only take a few failures to send everyone packing.

The Evil Within, the return of Shinji Mikami, arrives in October. In Mikami We Trust, but what I've seen of The Evil Within hasn't inspired much confidence. I can't quite put my finger on it. It looks like Resident Evil 4 transplanted to 2014 with lots of gore, which, on paper, sounds great, but it's mostly left me feeling uninspired.

That same month, we'll be treated to Alien: Isolation, which is essentially Creative Assembly taking lessons from Amnesia with gobs of money. The demo I played at GDC was scary as hell, but I worry the game will become trial-and-error. Death makes sense when running from creatures of the night, but in the ideal scenario, players just barely make it out alive, and never actually die. I'm curious how the game strikes that balance.

Next year, Capcom will release an updated version of its Resident Evil remake, a high point in the series. Is Capcom subtly hinting a return to its roots? After Resident Evil 6, one can only hope for change--any change.

If Nintendo has any sense, Fatal Frame 5 on Wii U will be coming before the year is up. (I doubt it.)

P.T. demonstrates a development team that knows what's possible when the horror genre is paired with the best technology has to offer. Can you imagine what it'd be like with Morpheus? Actually, I don't really want to.

Either way, Silent Hill is back.

Silent Hill is dead, long live Silent Hill.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
104 Comments Refresh
Posted by pygmy7

Great write-up. I loved PT and I'm a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro. Can't wait until Silent Hills is released!

Edited by Ghost_Cat

Even if this was a viral demo, I hope that a lot of the elements within are hints to what the real game will be. More than anything, I actually would like the new Silent Hill game to be in first-person. If the new installment revolves around the idea of playing mind games with the player, while being ever-so atmospheric and skin-crawling tense, then it makes more sense to break the third-person tradition and go straight to first-person perspective.

Edit: I want to also state what really sold me on the demo and cranked up the immersion level: the camera work. I can't think of any game that has ever nailed the "cinematic first-person" view quite like this demo (I say "cinematic," because of the stylistic choices for the DoF and filters). It's subtle but amazingly executed that goes a long way to immerse the player.

Posted by abacus

@patrickklepek yeah, Downpour wasn't really scary. And yeah, there were too many times where I was like "Why am I playing this? Anyone?" And sure, the monster design was awful and fighting them was a chore. A not scary, boring, frustrating chore. Ok, sure, Murphy was a walking, talking cardboard cutout of a man.

Sure those things are all true, BUT... ummmm...

Oh yeah, but the side quests were interesting. Specifically the gramophone one was pretty great. So theres that.

Posted by Hailinel

Fatal Frame 5 will probably come, but by the end of the year is likely looking for a localization too soon.

Posted by Quarters

Great write up. And I could watch that gif over and over. So good. I still love RE6 and some of the ways modern horror games have gone, but I am really glad that Silent Hill might finally get to step up with the big boys again and be something really special. I actually did like Homecoming, didn't play Downpour, and thought Shattered Memories had some cool ideas. But I want Silent Hill to have a strong rebirth, where it can finally earn some respect.

Posted by MasterBrief

Wait what is the origin of that gif? Can't be from this demo.

Posted by endoworks

It was terrifying watching this on the video. Great write up... I am excited and terrified for what this might be!

Posted by MooseyMcMan

I love Kojima for the insane things he does, and PT only made me love him more. I hope the end game ends up being really good. Horror games are something I've never really gotten into (not counting stuff like the latter Resident Evils, which are action games), partly because most of the ones around these days are pretty low budget. I know being snobbish about games not looking great is something I try not to do, but for something like this, I kinda need it to look really realistic for it to get anything out of me. And obviously you need big budgets for that.

Also, as always, that was a really good article, Patrick.

Posted by froggeh
Edited by oldenglishC

I enjoy horror games, but the horror part usually goes away after a couple hours of play time and they're just games I finish to see where the story goes.

P.T. made me stop playing for 30 minutes, turn all the lights on, and then go back to playing with an episode of 'It's Always Sunny' on my Ipad playing next to me so there was something else going on in the room besides that terrifying-ass game.

Posted by Pabba

I'm so glad I got to watch you play PT because I'll never be brave enough to hallway-run my way through it!

Edited by mintyice

Posted by RioStarwind

Going by that small teaser the next Silent Hill game will be the kind of horror game I've been wanting to play again since SH2. Horror wise at least since I hope the puzzles aren't that vague in the final game.

Posted by HammondofTexas

I typically do not like horror games, but watching you play PT/Silent Hills was very entertaining! Keep it up Scoops!

Posted by forteexe21

I don't play horror games cause i easily get scared but i do still follow the games. I like that Konami is finally having another game that isn't MGS even though Kojima is involved in this one. I just hope that this means they are looking at their IPs and somehow find Suikoden in there.

Edited by Yummylee

Shattered Memories is quite possibly one of the best games in the Silent Hill series. Homecoming is essentially Silent Hill: The Movie - The Videogame, but I found that it retained at least some of the same hallmarks that I enjoy about this series. Its atmosphere was thick and foreboding, it looked pretty good for the time, and its soundtrack was as sublime as ever. The voice acting was alright too, and that one boss battle involving the giant doll is one of the most memorable enemies in the franchise.

Downpour I think is similarly flawed but ultimately a worthwhile game. It once again carries the same style of atmosphere and attempts to adapt it into an open-world setting. Having an open-world horror game is a brilliant idea at that, because that way it introduces an unpredictable environment, one where you can turn around to find nothing at one moment and then turn around again to see a banshee eyeing you from a distance. Some of its side missions were really creative at that, and there were parts of it that I found unsettling and even rather frightening. The small basement that's shrouded in darkness, while introducing one of those giggling doll creatures, had me franctically mashing on buttons to try and kill the invisible creature. The hansel and gretal theatre psychological set-piece is one of the most memorable moments in the series for me, too.

I'm excited for this new one all the same of course (even without seeing or playing P.T. for myself), but that's purely because there's a new Silent Hill game on the horizon and not because Silent Hill has been terrible for so long or whatever the fuck. And I frankly find Patrick's seeming inability to believe that people out there genuinely found merit with Homecoming and Downpour to reek of arrogance.

Posted by Excast

I just wanted to say Patrick that while I don't play horror games, your experience with P.T. really struck a nerve with me. I didn't want to watch, but couldn't look away. Maybe the thing that finally grabbed me is that the nightmarish scenes that horror games have been trying to create for years finally seemed real. The graphics. The lighting. The ambient noises. It was on a whole new level from the types of things you usually see, especially on consoles. And the fact that it was done without any kind of combat options whatsoever made it all the more impressive.

I really hope that development goes smoothly and that this doesn't turn into a Resident Evil type zombie shooting marathon. This thing showed a lot of promise.

Posted by Nightriff

Man I need to watch that spookin with scoops to see what they hell caused that reaction (and the one of the girl from gamespot crying). Looks like I'll watch it on saturday when I'm at work alone and can turn all the lights off and creep me out.

Posted by MasterBrief

@froggeh: For real? I saw nothing to invoke that reaction. Now granted I just watched a playthrough of it since I don't have a ps4. Are there a variety of things that can happen?

Edited by spankingaddict

I can digg it , suckaaaa ...

Posted by Monkeyman04

One thing that really worked for P.T. was that is gave me chills and goose bumps while IN DAYLIGHT! I missed the starting of Spookin' and so I watched it when the upload was put up and it still got to me with my bedroom light on during the day. That gives me high hopes for the full game.

Posted by porjos
@mintyice said:

Oh man, I hadn't made it this far in the I definitely won't finish this by myself.

Edited by Luck702

The fantastic thing about PT and why it makes for such a good Silent Hill introduction is the repetition. Going through the same door only to be dropped back into the hell you just escaped is absolutely genius in giving a sense of purgatory. The feeling of being in purgatory followed by hell is exactly what Silent Hill is about. The entire time watching PT, I felt like I could not escape. Like there was no end. Sure, anyone could just turn off the console, but the player seems to always be searching for the end that (for most) never comes. I watched about 4 hours of PT after Patrick and Mary Kish's streams and felt like I was going insane, but somehow felt compelled to keep going. This has to be the mark of truly great psychological horror.

If any of these sensibilities show up in Silent Hills, the developers would have accomplished something that hasn't been in any latter day Silent Hill games.

Edited by Hassun

I sure hope the teaser will be indicative of the new Silent Hill game. The choice of a well-known face as the protagonist makes we wary though. I also hope Del Toro is more than just a name pasted on the thing and he has some actual deep influence. Especially on the story.

Posted by Draxyle

I watched a playthrough of Homecoming and Downpour.. boy do I hope this is a proper revival of the franchise.

At the same time though, part of me would rather them retire the name. The original narrative arc concluded with Silent Hill 3, and all attempts at tying any future games to that same universe have gone very poorly.

That said, it's still nice to see Konami acknowledge its franchises that aren't Metal Gear.

Posted by SymbolliC

Man, I do miss AAA horror titles. I really do hope this trend continues.

Posted by pyrodactyl

Wait until the evil within comes out and sells poorly. Horror games are not viable for big devs/publishers. The only reason Silent hill might make money is because of the name and the known people behind it. AAA is just too expensive for the limited audience that appreciate horror, especially in this new generation.

Posted by sub_o

I don't think Evil Within is aiming to be pure horror game though, I think it's still aiming to pure survival horror, which means that tension and fear comes from the limited ammunition and weaponry. It's the fear caused by being chased, unlike Silent Hill, which is pure horror, horror that's created by the world and atmosphere.

Posted by Odyssey

Excellent article.

Edited by Brad3000

You are wrong about Downpour Patrick. I genuinely feel like the anti-horror attitude and cynicism of the SF office (I love em, but come on) caused you to put on your hater-pants while you played that game. It is the best mainline Silent Hill since 2. And I came to this conclusion having played it right after replaying 2&3. The monster designs are bad and the combat is semi-broken, but the environments, puzzles, side quests and exploration are some of the best that the series has seen and the story is one of the more coherent stories in the whole series.

Edit: The final boss area does suck pretty bad though.

Posted by 2kings

This was one of my favorite things you've written ever. Awesome article @patrickklepek!

Edited by conmulligan

I have little to no interest in horror games, but the resurgence of more niche genres at the start of a new console generation is always exciting.

Posted by Dezinus

Hey Scoops, this is a pretty good article!

Edited by syz

The random element really does seem to be the thing here. It also feels like it's a tightrope to walk in terms of balance or playability...

Best example I've seen was when I was watching a streamer yesterday evening...

He'd been stuck on the last "puzzle" for literally hours--wasn't using a PS4 microphone, as it turns out. Anyways, he had began to grow overly familiar with the situation. All night, and even the night before, the ghost showed up in the same four places: at either end of the hallway, inside the bathroom mirror, and outside the window by the phone. It was only a little bit startling each time he heard her reappear, because he wasn't sure which of the four places she would be. Whenever she appeared in the mirror or outside the window, she was always harmless enough--she would stand there and spaz around for a while before disappearing, no matter how close he got. Then, on the second night, after several hours of stumbling around, he heard her in the bathroom again. Thinking she would be in the mirror, he went to check. For the first time she was standing in the middle of the room, and she annihilated him as soon as he rounded the corner. I've also heard stories of her occasionally breaking through the window to gank you as well.

These are jump scares, but they're not jump scares that everybody is going to experience like they are in something like Outlast. It's a brief teaser demo, yet everybody seems to have their own story about some creepy shit that happened to them. The question is whether or not this ends up being a bit of a double-edge, since it can theoretically allow for somebody to miss out on some really horrifying bits... or to get bombarded with them.

Posted by vikingdeath1

PT was really cool, I didn't realize you could zoom in with R3 so I eventually got stuck (That first fucking time the bathroom door opens a little, I was staring at that crack in the door for like 10 minutes, running into it, looking up and down, standing completely still, just not getting it, but eventually the jump-scare showed up even without me zooming in) And I coulda sworn I pressed every single button, but I guess not.

Posted by Yummylee

Wait until the evil within comes out and sells poorly. Horror games are not viable for big devs/publishers. The only reason Silent hill might make money is because of the name and the known people behind it. AAA is just too expensive for the limited audience that appreciate horror, especially in this new generation.

I doubt The Evil Within is going to sell terribly, least not in relation to its budget. Its overall production values seem to be a little spotty, despite the calibur of developers behind it, which implies that it isn't exactly being given the world. That's not to say The Evil Within is destined to be success, but if anything I'd say it actually lingers a little closer to the ''B-tier'' of games that Jeff keeps reiterating doesn't exist.

Edited by Dussck

Yes, this piece had to be written, because it's so true! I've been whining for the past couple of years over the death of survival horror and see: this october I'll get Alien and Evil Within. My favourite survival horror game (and maybe any game) is Silent Hill 2. While playing through that one I often felt the need to just stop and leave that awful world, couldn't stand the horror. I felt the same some days ago when playing PT, I knew this was good horror and it felt like playing ... a proper Silent Hill game!

Good times ahead for us who like to sweat in the dark.

Edited by DrBeardface

My sister asked me to download it since she doesn't own a PS4 and she wanted to play it. She spent most of the time squeaking (not loud enough to be considered a shriek) or whining that she couldn't play anymore. It was pretty fun for me.

That said I loved Shattered Memories.

Also I think Kojima's sense of humor and overall penchant for "weird-shit" will definitely benefit the Silent Hill universe. At the very least this should be an interesting experiment.

@patrickklepek Do you think the decline of horror games was necessary to elicit this kind of experimentation from developers? Seems somewhat similar to the fighting game situation, where things had slowed to a crawl and then Street Fighter IV came out and put things back into gear.

Posted by Shivoa

@patrickklepek: My impression from the interviews has been that this project is currently being led by the Kojima's prototypers and a part of the Fox Engine team converting that engine (now that it's stable from Ground Zeros and getting ready for Phantom Pain shipping) and getting ready to ramp up to full production once the main team is done with Phantom Pain. As in this is the next game from Kojima's local team rather than just being something he's working on in writer or producer roles.

Posted by Sammo21

I had a great time with PT and hope that the tone is indicative of what's to come. Silent Hill is no stranger to first person though as the series first did it in Silent Hill 4 with the apartment sections and the possessions, so maybe they are taking some small inspiration from that? I'd love to see large sections of the game in the same first person style.

The name Silent Hills makes me think they are going to toy with the idea that's been brought up in the past of there being multiple verisons of Silent Hill all existing at the same time in the same place. This would make all the games canon easily and allow for multiple interpretations and themes throughout.

Posted by Rzxvc

The moment I saw Sentient Existential Crisis Brown Paper Bag I was on board.

Posted by Brad3000

I am probably going to look pretty foolish after having just defended Downpour a few comments back but I have to say, I found PT to be insanely boring and not scary. There were some great, creepy moments and disturbing images but walking back and forth in a hallway for dozens of minutes on end, tediously looking for some obscure trigger to make the game move on sapped any scares out of the set pieces. It was basically a gorgeous hidden object game with a baby crying on endless loop in the background. That radio broadcast was terrific the first time I heard it but by the time I'd heard it 30 times I was just so inured to it it retroactively erased any creeps it might have once given me.

Posted by syz
@rzxvc said:

The moment I saw Sentient Existential Crisis Brown Paper Bag I was on board.

One can only hope that there was market research on the effects of putting the trailer for said paper bag immediately after the MGSV cardboard box skit.

Posted by GaspoweR

@porjos said:
@mintyice said:

Oh man, I hadn't made it this far in the I definitely won't finish this by myself.

Man I've watched a few videos of playthroughs and it seems that the appearances are pretty much random in terms of the order or when it happens. Even if you've seen a stream beforehand, there are going to be certain segments that are the same but there are parts that you are never going to be exactly sure as to what subtle changes are going to happen in your playthrough. It's effective at playing with your expectations.

I for one am never great with horror games. Not good for me physiologically because I have hyper tension :(. God the first Dead Space game for example was fucking nerve wracking for me. I'd fucking stomp any and all corpses whenever I see one.

Posted by GaspoweR
@hailinel said:

Fatal Frame 5 will probably come, but by the end of the year is likely looking for a localization too soon.

Just a question, has there been an option where you can play the game in the native language but just have English subtitles in the past games? I'm just asking if that would be the case with this game if there is precedent. :)

Posted by csl316

I hope this starts a new trend of playable teasers.

Posted by Fushichou187

Posted this elsewhere but got drowned in the flood of "zomg where are my diaperssss?????" reactions, appropriate as they may be.

So my take from P.T. is the lights, the photo/paper pieces, the *zaps!*, etc.. are red herrings to the goal of getting the fuck out of that home; I'm still not sold things are randomly generated. Rather interacting with something triggers something else, and interacting with that (because why wouldn't you? video games, right?) sets off more triggers and the rabbit hole gets deeper and deeper and you eventually find yourself lost and, as some discovered, stuck for hours (or forever. Hi, Gamespot!) in a downward spiral of your own making. That doesn't sound like "classic" SH to me-- as the dementia we suffered through was often due to the trauma of the protagonist-- no, this feels like something entirely new where there is a real sense of agency in just how fucked up things can become; even the knowledge that we can hamper our progress can induce a kind of surrealist paranoia that I feel is the distilled essence of Silent Hill.

It's weird having a demo-- that is itself merely a viral marketing vehicle for a title reveal-- being shoulders above many other entrants in the horror field; and brought to us by Kojima of all people. But that's where we are and I love it.

Posted by eggshell

Horror is dead, long live horror.

Silent Hill is dead, long live Silent Hill.

I cringed

Posted by Hailinel

@gaspower: As I recall, there was no Japanese language option in Fatal Frame 1-3.

Edited by Corevi

Wait what is the origin of that gif? Can't be from this demo.

It is.