Remember P.T.? Released in 2014, was dropped out of nowhere onto the PlayStation store and soon revealed to be an abbreviation of ‘Playable Teaser’ – specifically for Silent Hills, directed by the legendary Hideo Kojima, famed for...
Right. RIGHT. We all know the story back to front. We don’t need to relive it. Because if you’re anything like us, you’ve watched all the YouTube analysis videos 50 times through (even the rubbish ones) and while we see lots of people analysing P.T.’s themes and imagery, we don’t really see many people talking about exactly why it’s so scary. About exactly why we had to make up excuses for binning that good pair of Calvin Kleins we only got two Christmases ago.
So let's try to look past the sheer terror of Lisa and the hallway, and instead focus on a few of the techniques P.T. used to get so deeply under the skin of players around the world, creating a horror masterpiece that wee weirdos are still writing articles about 8 years on – and it wasn't even a finished game.
In 2019, following the tragic cancellation of Silent Hills and the release of shoe crafting simulator Death Stranding, Kojima had a sit down chat with Rocket Beans Gaming where he confirmed his interest in returning to horror. Through his translator, Kojima said, “If you close your eyes in a movie you can make [the horror] go away and the movie continues – but in games, it's interactive. You have to move forward yourself."
And to an extent, that’s all that P.T. is. A "moving forward" simulator. Upon your exit from the unsettling starting room – which your London friends may describe as ‘not bad for £1500 a month’ – you're faced with silence. But listening closer, you can just about make out the hazy murmur of a radio, unclear and muffled, as if it’s much further away than it actually is.
Taking your first few steps forward, curious to investigate, it quickly starts to come into clarity. As if your very movement is tuning the radio to the right frequency. It’s a grim breadcrumb trail left by Kojima, drawing you to the radio, encouraging your forward momentum so you can catch as much of the transmission as possible. It doesn’t take many footsteps before the broadcast is crystal clear – and you’re listening to the grisly account of a family murder, reported with an unsettling glibness by a preppy anchor. An experience somehow both ghoulish yet favourable to Jamie Theakston and Amanda Holden. You’ve taken the bait, and as the report comes to an end – the exit door is in sight. So off you trot through it, only to find yourself...
...back at the start, having successfully completed your first loop of this cursed corridor. Somewhere, somehow Kojima wryly smiles to himself (before tweeting a picture of Mads Mikkelsen getting a Greggs or something).
In your second journey through the hallway, you find a family photo frame has fallen to the floor with ‘R3’ scrawled across it. You realise that by pressing that button, you can zoom in on your surroundings and investigate them in further detail. So far, so normal.
But two loops in, as you approach the exit door, it supernaturally slams itself shut in front of you. Moments later, the bathroom door creaks open ever so slightly. Cockroaches spill out. As you slowly peek through the gap… nothing happens.
A second passes. Maybe two. Still nothing. Until you press R3.
You take a closer look – and Lisa makes her first appearance. Slamming the door shut like you’ve interrupted her morning bowel movement. Grinning from ear to ear; delighted by the shriek she’s inevitably coaxed from you. This glorious moment, this first proper scare, warns the player of the horror that’s to come in P.T. And that the only real, meaningful interaction Kojima has given you is that R3 button – and the ability to get closer to it.
It’s why we think the next two appearances of Lisa have cemented themselves so firmly in the horror hall of fame. Following her shy bathroom behaviour, we find her on the very next loop – standing perfectly still, illuminated by the creaking hall light.
It’s here where Kojima and his team cement those two core mechanics. By only allowing you to move forward or take a closer look; you’re completely limited in how you can interact with PT. But what that does is create this perfect tension that no other game has ever really captured for us. We're not Leon S. Kennedy here, and, as much as we'd like to, we can’t shoot Lisa in the shin and suplex her into the beautiful hardwood floor. Even in previous Silent Hill games, you could at least use a wooden plank to bludgeon the horny creations of your subconscious. But here? All you're armed with is the ability to move closer or look closer – the two things you absolutely do not want to do.
In this particular instance, moving just that little bit closer does the trick. She disappears and the loop continues. Thank goodness. But upon the eighth loop, something drops out of nowhere as you approach the end of the hallway, creating an almighty crash. If you follow the path of the object back above, Lisa stands on the balcony, staring down at the player with that beautiful, Hollywood smile.
And this, dear reader, we believe to be the scariest moment in all of video game history.
Because both times we’ve met her in past loops, we’ve been able to use our limited gameplay mechanics to interact with her somehow. But here? We can’t reach her. Looking closer does nothing but make you shiver.
So there you stand, as a player, bereft of your usual ways to interact. Frozen still, making eye contact with a monster. You’re experiencing P.T. through an interactive medium and you just don’t know how to interact with it. And that is scary.
After what feels like an eternity – but in reality, is about all of 6 seconds – she steps back into the darkness, leaving you unsure of what will happen next. Terrified to move forward. Terrified to look at anything.
You can’t download P.T. onto your PS4 anymore. In a world of non-stop 5G digital cloud access, where you can’t even lose your unsold feet pics if you drop your phone into a volcano, this existence feels perfect for P.T. The video game equivalent of the VHS tape from The Ring, living on the hard drives of the forsaken. This magnetic yet repulsive experience that we never want to play but would be devastated to lose.
Forgive us, PS4. we put a monster inside of you.