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'Playable Teaser' promises untapped potential for horror video games

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PLAYABLE TEASER

Coming out of last month’s Gamescom, a small horror game called P.T., or The Playable Teaser, stole the spotlight. Downloadable for free on the PlayStation 4, the game came with virtually no warning or explanation. Instead, it let players exploreand be horrified bythe game for themselves.

P.T. initially presents itself as a simple affair, set in the hallway of an average-looking house. Players start at one end and walk through the hall to a door that seemingly leads to a garage. But that door instead opens back into the hallway. In each subsequent loop, the hallway changes, and the story of a gruesome double murder comes into focus. There’s plenty of creepy imagery, a seemingly random puzzle to solve, and more than a few jump scares to satiate any horror fan. (I played with friends who screamed so loudly, my neighbors knocked on our wall to quiet down.)

The game’s mysteries were quickly solvedit turned out the game was actually a teaser for the upcoming Silent Hillsbut the brilliance of P.T.‘s scares and simplicity are still a marvel. Now, its creators have given players a chance to see the game’s even more bizarre origins.

Revealed at the Tokyo Game Show this week, the game’s creator and Metal Gear Solid mastermind Hideo Kojima showed off a concept trailer for P.T.‘s early origins. The game began life in a far less subtle form, but the trailer is an amazing case of showing how far Kojima and his team stretched the limits of a simple hallway.

There’s no shortage of frightening images in the trailera bouncing ball turning into a severed head, walls exploding with bugs, and a giant monster chasing the player. It’s all quite different from the final product. This trailer is decidedly about the big moments, and that’s okay—more than anything, it shows the potential for what P.T. could have been.

A small caveatno information about Silent Hills has been made official, but it’s likely not to be as experimental as P.T. simply so it can remain commercially viable. The teaser has no combat, no easily understood story. The game requires players to toy around with its world, even when it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Hills won’t have that luxury. It will likely be a full-priced title that includes combat or puzzles and attempts to evoke the same sense of horror over many hours.

The restraints placed on P.T. as a small experience are what allow the game to succeed. Building the game around such a simple hook as a looping hallway avoids the issues that come along with a horror game full of combat and multiple locations. And even if players never complete the game’s final puzzle, there’s enough to satisfy horror fans just by tinkering around in the game’s world. So why not make more experiences like this?

The concept trailer shows the possibilities for an entirely different game with a similar setup. When the first-person view happens upon the staircase at the end of the trailer, I wanted to continue following the game. I was willing to uncover whatever mysteries this new hallway offered despite having discoveredor read online aboutall of P.T.‘s secrets.

The relatively low time required to see most of P.T.‘s highlights made it an easy experience to buy into for over a million players. Releasing experiences of a similar length every few months could change the way horror games are approached by developers. They don’t have to take away from the big-budget scarefests, but rather expand the possibilities of a genre whose biggest franchises like Resident Evil have seen better days.

At the end of P.T.‘, a mysterious shot of The Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus walking down an ominous city street appears. It’s meant to be intriguing and excite fans for whatever Silent Hills will be. But honestly, Kojima? Right now, I would much rather see where the concept trailer’s staircase leads than whatever horrors Reedus may face.

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