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I never played P.T. I didn’t have a PlayStation 3 or 4 when it came out so I experienced the game via osmosis. It was something my friends talked to me about at parties or online. I watched playthroughs on YouTube through my fingers. Screenshots of dead fetuses in sinks and that long empty hallway haunted every video game site I visited in August 2014. Five years on P.T.’s influence hovers, spectre-like, over modern horror games.
Announced in August 2014 at Gamescom P.T. was initially just that: a playable teaser. But then the first people began to complete the short, scary little demo and it revealed itself as so much more. Under the direction of Hideo Kojima – gaming’s greatest auteur – P.T. was to be a new game in the long-running and long dormant Silent Hill franchise. Aiding Kojima was acclaimed director and horror luminary Guillermo del Toro and Japan’s number one fright master Junji Ito. P.T. was billed as a thematic intro to what would eventually be Silent Hills. But then it got cancelled.
After the troubled, lengthy and costly development of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain publisher Konami had run out of patience and faith in Kojima. They fired him, keeping the rights to his legacy and cancelling development on Silent Hills before it ever had a chance to reach its potential. In commissioning Silent Hills Konami created something horror fans had been desperate for. The Silent Hill series was dormant and the Resident Evil series had gone batshit goofy. Other games like Outlast or Amnesia: The Dark Descent were little more than frightening walking simulators. P.T. promised something different, something that would permeate as much as shock and in failing to deliver on this P.T. became one of the most iconic games in history.
It’s true that I’ve never played P.T. but I have a great deal of experience with its legacy. I knew I couldn’t let something like P.T. pass me by again and most of the gaming world seemed to agree. Slowly but surely it’s legacy began to take shape. The first to echo P.T. was Allison Road. Expanding the setting of the teaser from a lone hallway to a large house Allison Road promised much the same thing as P.T. did: a growing sense of dread, photo-realistic graphics and a very, very frightening lady ghost. But then it got cancelled.
The legacy of P.T. is incredibly strange because there is no other legacy like it. P.T. was never a fully fleshed out game. It was a novella or short story that never revealed much about it’s existence until the final few seconds. Most games aim for blockbuster heights like Gears of War or Skyrim. Others, such as Bioshock or Alan Wake, try for an artsier, novel-like approach. But P.T. is unique. No other game before or after Silent Hills had a teaser like P.T. Something that presented the themes and maybe the scares that were to come but that was completely different when compared to the eventual finished product. This kind of marketing has never been replicated and will likely never be bettered.
It’s why it’s spiritual successors like Allison Road and P.T’s own various remakes never really got off the ground. Allison Road was ostensibly cancelled in 2016 though development apparently resumed after Team17, the game’s publisher, withdrew and was replaced by the game’s developers Far From Home. Since that announcement on August 22 there have been no further updates. Two very popular remakes of P.T. – one in July 2018 and another in January 2019 – were released though they too would never be seen again after Konami sent Cease and Desist letters. You would think that Konami were keeping an ancient evil chained up with their eagerness to shut down P.T. In their view they were.
Games were changing in 2015, evolving into the games-as-service model we know now. The Fortnite and PUBG wave was beginning to crest and it hasn’t yet rolled back. Konami knew this and decided to refocus on games that already sold well in Asian markets like pachinko and mobile games. Gone was their focus on console and PC based narrative games. After the MGS V debacle it became obvious that the kind of auteur-driven storytelling and gameplay wasn’t going to cut it in the ever-changing marketplace. To Konami games that weren’t consistently making money like mobile and pachinko games or their Pro Evolution Soccer series were then they weren’t worth the effort. It makes sense in a sad, cynical, big business kind of way. But then P.T’s death and subsequent haunting of our collective subconscious wasn’t all bad news.
I never played P.T. but you can bet I played the shit out of it’s spiritual successors – the ones that didn’t get cancelled that is. I wasn’t that into horror in 2014 hence why I never got around to downloading P.T. but that all changed when I saw Jennifer Kent’s grief-stricken nightmare The Babadook that October. I didn’t sleep right for weeks and that viewing kick-started an addiction that went way past the Stephen King fan I was at the time. Of course by October with no regular updates beyond that singular Gamescom event a lot of people including myself had forgotten about P.T. which meant it’s cancellation came as quite the shock. So I did what everyone else that had forgotten or not bothered with P.T. had done. I played the lookalikes, the wannabes and the barely-there.
My first taste of what could have been was Resident Evil VII. The infamous zombie series was tightening the screws once more setting a story in a sleepy, spooky bayou rather than telling a tale of global conspiracies. Admittedly the game lost the run of itself after the boss battle with Marguerite but those first and second acts are one-two punches like no other. I managed to download the 2019 remake of P.T. before it was removed from developer Radius Gordello’s page. I haven’t touched it yet because after having played roughly 40 minutes of the Early Access game Visage I’m not sure I’ll be able to.
Visage is perhaps the closest game to P.T. in terms of setting, theme and gameplay. Deliberately hard to penetrate with an overwhelming atmospheric dread Visage is a sight and sound nightmare factory. Uneven footsteps sound above you in the dark places of a large suburban house. Vicious spirits haunt the halls and rooms of the ever-shifting home. Oppressive darkness presses in on you from every corner. If P.T. is the ‘Five and a Half Minute Hallway‘ segment then Visage is the full-on House of Leaves experience just with more literal monsters.
With all that said these games and remakes and almost-existed copycats are still just memories and echoes of a game that never existed in the first place. Silent Hills is a ghost, a phantom that haunts modern gaming’s history and will continue to haunt it far into the future just like P.T. We can only imagine what could have been, what horrors we would have had to endure (or enjoy). Time kills all things eventually. Some things it won’t even allow to exist. We should be grateful then – even those of us that didn’t play it – that we were allowed to exist at a time when horror gaming’s future was once so bright only to be snuffed out, like a candle in an endless, haunted hallway.