Media saturation is a major problem in gaming today, or, at least, I think it is. Thanks to the internet, we’re no longer given time to get excited about the possibilities of a game, but rather, end up “seeing” almost everything there is to know about a game by the time it’s released. For some games, such as the competitive kind, this makes sense as players want to know everything possible before they jump in. However, for singleplayer experiences, the kind that are driven by narrative and exploration, it honestly gets to the point where I have to go on a media blackout as watching too much gameplay footage actually makes me less enthusiastic about it. I mean, please just let me play it for myself?
In the ’90s, when the internet was too slow to do anything, gamers used to rely on something called a “demo disc,” which were distributed via various gaming publications that you could purchase from your local newsagency. Each month, these discs would contain a small collection of trailers and demos for games in development, allowing readers to get a small taste of what’s to come. Sometimes, these were the big games we would read about in magazines; Tomb Raider II, for example, was one of the first games I ever experienced via a demo disc. Better yet were all the games you had never heard about, that you could experience for the first time without bias – arguably, the best way!
On special occasions, however, some demos were lucky enough to get their own dedicated disc to be included with the release of another game. This was how I first encountered Silent Hill, which came included with the retail version of Metal Gear Solid – released in Australia in February 1999. On first inspection, It was a strange black disc, which, when loaded up, immediately warned the player about the violent and disturbing images they were about to experience. I had played Resident Evil before, so I had a good idea about horror games, but I had never imagined anything like this. It was incredible, but without any additional info to go on, I had to make my own way through to learn what it was.
If you told me a week ago that I was going to experience this again, for the same franchise, I would have laughed in disbelief. Game demos are rare enough as it is now days as publishers would rather carefully script the gameplay we see, rather than risk us forming our own impressions (well, unless it’s paid early access, but that’s a topic for another day.) Besides, how could I possibly play a demo for a new installment in a big franchise without knowing what it was? Well, one of our industry greats, Hideo Kojima, didn’t think it was impossible; misdirecting us all with yet another phoney indie studio, and a horror game called P.T. which had a demo available immediately after the announcement.
Naturally, it didn’t take long until word had leaked (via Twitch) that P.T. was actually a teaser for a new Silent Hill game to be directed by famed Metal Gear creator, Hideo Kojima, and renowned horror film director, Guillermo Del Toro; as well as starring Norman Reedus. The following day, Kojima-san explained in an interview that he expected it would take a week for fans to crack the final puzzle, which he also admitted was intended to be ridiculously difficult. However, something strange occurred throughout the internet; despite knowing the truth, most of us (myself included) could not figure out the solution to the final puzzle, despite our best attempts to replicate what we had seen online. And thus, theories went wild on NeoGAF as the gaming world became consumed with solving the enigma that is P.T..
Okay, so maybe a dream-team revival of my favourite franchise puts me in a bit of a biased position, but the thing about “P.T” is that it’s successful entirely on its own merit; delivering everything you would expect from a great demo. To clarify further, the teaser only takes place within a single corridor which loops on itself, but, within this intimate space, it manages to showcase an enormous number of possible horror scenarios, as well as providing a fantastic exploration of sound and lighting effects; forcing players to familiarise themselves with even the smallest changes in the environment. Nothing is directly explained to the player, it’s riddled with secrets and hidden messages, and, not to mention, is arguably one of the most terrifying creations of any medium. The best thing of all? – It has almost nothing to do with Silent Hills itself, but, instead, serves as a showcase of ideas and a solid means to gather player feedback.
With every generation of gaming, there is always that one game. That definitive game which makes each of us stop still and say, “wow!” It’s also the single game which immediately justifies our hefty investment into the “next generation.” In my case, I’m talking about genre-defining titles such as Mario, Donkey Kong, Final Fantasy VII, Grand Theft Auto III, and Mass Effect. Let’s be realistic, though, these games don’t often come around in the first year of the cycle – sorry, Watch Dogs – however, this generation is the first exception. Ever since the conception of the “HD era,” I have often fantasised about the day that Silent Hill could step beyond the experience of watching horror movies; even those of Del Toro. I’ve waited a long time, but P.T. has realised the vision I’ve been dreaming of for almost 8 years now. That’s why, for me, it’s such a mind blowing teaser, as well as the first game, this generation, to genuinely wow me.
P.T. steps beyond just my personal approval, though. We also have to take into account that one of the biggest announcements, ever, slipped right by us in this new age of immediate information. Before we even knew what it was, the gaming world had already been sucked into the twisted world of Silent Hill once again; akin back to the demo discs of old and the way many of us first encountered the original – terrified, and without a clue. The difference this time is that instead of being ruined by the internet, P.T. brought the entire world together online to work as one in order to unravel its secrets. On its own merit, it’s an incredible showcase that deserves recognition for its design alone, but best of all, they put the controller back in our hands; giving us the opportunity to form our own opinions and share feedback, without exposing any spoilers about the game itself. Anything that can provoke the imagination of so many people, especially in this age, is something remarkable and why I believe P.T. is the greatest demo ever to be created.