As many of you may remember, I was on full freak out mode as I played through Outlast when it launched on the PlayStation 4 back in February. To me, that game signified everything horror should be. Dark hallways, a lack of combat, a creepy vibe and a general sense of helplessness made the adventure all the more nerve-wracking. After beating the title, I promptly uninstalled it so I wouldn’t have to look at the title on my PlayStation 4 home screen.
Then, during Gamescom 2014, Sony announced a playable trailer from an unknown 7780s Studio. Without knowing anything further, I dived right in to what quickly became the most horrifying game I’ve played to date. I wanted to share some of my experiences and to explain why a title as freaky as this actually has made me more intrigued about the horror genre as a whole. (Ultimately, this game turned out to be a teaser for Silent Hills, courtesy of Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro and Konami.)
The demo starts off innocently enough, sans a few cockroaches crawling around the floor. Gross! The small hallway contains some pretty standard pictures of a family. The radio plays some random music in the background, with the DJ popping in from time to time to talk random news stories. As soon as you’ve passed two locked doors, you’re forced to enter a third. There is no HUD, no controls, and no interface of any kind. Other than figuring out quickly enough that the analog sticks controlled the nameless, faceless character (this game is first person), I took in the pretty eye candy and headed into the next exportable area.
Only to find it put me back where I started. This time, there were more cockroaches. And the lights were a bit dimmer. The radio cut out occasionally, and I could hear crying from one of the locked doors. By the fourth revolution of this, I was stumbling around in the pitch black, the radio announcer read random cryptic numbers, followed by the occasional “Turn around, he is right behind you” announcement (nobody was behind me, but I was still scared witless). There was blood all over the place and the music intensified. By the ninth (or tenth?) revolution, the pictures were replaced by spinning eyeballs, everything was blurry, and a baby cried horrifically. Okay, color me absolutely freaked out.
So why did this work for me, the same guy who is getting scared again just writing about this?
MAXIMUM IMMERSION: The game didn’t include a HUD. There were no life bars, maps, or inventory management systems present at any time. All I saw was the environment. And it was downright gorgeous. Great lighting and shadow effects filled the small space. In one revolution, an overhead light swayed back in forth in the breeze. The shadow and lighting effects were nothing short of amazing. It was attention to this type of detail (which is easy enough to do when the space is so small!) which really brought me into the environment. Couple this with some pretty intense background noises (doors slamming or opening behind you, floorboards creaking around the corner) and random sound effects and you’ve got me absolutely hooked.
UNCLEAR OBJECTIVES: This may annoy some, but to me, the sense of sheer exploration is what drives me further and wants me to try even harder. It didn’t take long for the game to introduce me to its simple rule set: each revolution “resets” the game world into something different. If I walked through the door to find the same environment after a few revolutions, I realized I had missed something. Sound effects also played an important role in the short demonstration, but it was enough for me to understand certain aural cues meant certain things were happening in the environment. All of this was uncovered solely by me trying to figure my way out. There were no maps, or “click here!” arrows littering the environment. The sheer magnitude of my unknown mission, fleeting away from the things that go bump in the night, elevated my desire to keep moving.
INTUITIVE PUZZLES: I loved Skyrim because the dungeon exploration system was fresh and new. Figuring out a simple puzzle by matching pictures on a column, or finding a hidden lever to open a trap door, were refreshing because it required careful attention to the environment. Dishonored carried this tradition as well, and it was equally as rewarding. And now, P.T. (Silent Hills) will carry this flame even further. I’ve never, ever, experienced some of that infamous Hideo Kojima immersion mixed with such a witty puzzle system. When would you ever think to find a clue inside of an options/pause menu of a game, a supposed “safe haven” for most gamers? It’s very clever, and it was so very rewarding when I finally solved the mystery of just what happened in that tiny little room.
So color me a new fan. Sure, it scared the absolute heck out of me, but I found myself loving it all the further. What this game does is lay the foundation for the horror, but then forces your imagination (through clever gameplay mechanics and elements) into something more frightening than could be displayed with pixels and clever art direction.
If you have played through this game, what did you think?