An Evening with P.T.
|It looks so innocuous, doesn't it?|
As I perused the downloadable game library on the Playstation Network on my brand-new PS4 last week, I noticed an enigmatic game called P.T. that is being offered free of charge. Just so I'm clear, I had no idea what this game was when I downloaded it. But hey, it was free, and it was listed as "horror," which got my attention. I assumed it was some kind of indy-produced game, something simple and clever like a glorified tech demo, and as a fan of horror games with quite a few doubts about the state of the genre these days, I thought the only innovation to be found would be in something like that. Again, I didn't know what I was getting myself into.
I'm trying to remember what I was like back then, so naive and full of sanity. I used to believe the scariest video games--System Shock 2, Dead Space, the Gamecube remake of Resident Evil, Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, etc.--were all in the past, that there was nothing out there that could possibly top them. I also had a relatively firm grip on reality, give or take the damage done by a few David Lynch films. I certainly didn't believe that there could be a free game on the Playstation Network that would plunge me down a rabbit hole of psychic trauma in just the span of a few hours, all without the assistance of mind-altering drugs.
I waited until the sun was down and my kid was asleep before I started playing. I didn't know what "P.T." could possibly stand for, but I assumed it took place out in the forest, since that's what the minimalist cover art for the game shows. I had never heard of the game's listed production company, 7780's Studio, which reinforced my impression that this was the video game equivalent of a demo track produced in somebody's garage under a fictional label like "Unhealing Scars Records." Therefore, I was surprised that the game began in a beautifully-rendered but incredibly stark, windowless room.
|Never has a filthy hallway been rendered this beautifully|
The controls are, indeed, quite simple. It's a first-person view, where the left stick moves you and the right stick lets you look around. You can zoom in a little by clicking on the right stick, but that's apparently it. None of the other buttons seem to do anything--no crouching, no sprinting, no jumping, no swinging your fists--and the options menu offers little in the way of options outside of changing the brightness and turning on the subtitles. Right away, though, I was astonished by the graphics, which seemed to me to be where the game's creators put the vast majority of their effort.
Even in the opening area--which is a bare concrete room with a single door, a small wooden table, a light, and absolutely nothing else--I could tell that a hell of a lot of work was put into making this game almost photo-realistic. There is a very effective pulled focus effect, wonderful lighting, and the kind of attention to detail that would make the worst OCD sufferer proud. But I didn't have time for that, because the door was cracked open, willing me to go through it.
A hallway, brightly-lit. Empty beer bottles, a ludicrous amount of used blister packs, a phone off the hook, a clock that perpetually reads "23:59," faded pictures of normal-looking people, and a teddy bear on the floor. It was raining outside the dark, barred windows. There was a single 90-degree turn to another hallway, a door on the right which I instinctively knew lead to a bathroom, the closed entryway to the house on the left, and an open door to the basement straight ahead. As I looked around, still marveling at the graphics--there was a rotting banana peel and a set of keys beside a radio--a broadcast started telling me an awful story about a man who killed his daughter, shot his pregnant wife in the stomach, and then hung himself in the garage, just like another man had done only a few weeks before.
Okay, I said to myself for the first of what would be many times, that's messed up. I walked forward, down into the basement, and through another door... and found myself back in that first hallway again. Empty beer bottles, used blister packs, teddy bear on the floor. Everything seemed the same, except maybe the lighting was a little lower. I stepped forward, went around the turn, and noticed that the radio was off now. I headed for the basement once again--there was nowhere else to go--and then somebody banged on the bathroom door behind me. Clever, I thought, but not exactly terrifying.
Back through the door, back in the hallway once more. Darker now. The door to the basement, strangely, was closed. Nowhere to go. Sounds of somebody moaning. Somebody jostled the other side of the bathroom door, but apparently couldn't get out. I walked back to the start, unable to open any of the closed doors, and then returned to the entryway, only to discover that the basement door was mysteriously open again. Huh. Back down into the basement, back to the hallway.
This time, I watched the basement door close by itself, and then, behind me, somebody cracked open the bathroom door. I was willing to admit that the game was getting pretty damn creepy at this point. Went to the bathroom door, darkness within. Tried to peek inside and then HOLY SHIT somebody grabbed the doorknob and slammed it shut. With a nervous laugh, I congratulated the game designer for getting the best of me. The basement door opened again. On to the next loop.
|"Hi, there, Miss. Could you please direct me to the exit of this spiralling insanity?"|
Bathroom totally open this time. Darkness within. Anxiously, I stepped inside. Flashlight on the floor. Automatically picked it up, but the door shut behind me. Now all I can see is in the beam of a flashlight. Cockroaches everywhere. Dirty tub with what looks like bloodstains. Hole in the wall. Can't really see myself in the mirror because it is so dirty. There's something moving in the sink...
Okay, seriously?! What in the holy Hell is that?! Jesus Christ, it's a squirming fetus, covered in blood. And it's crying! Baby sounds! Who the fuck designed this abomination of a game? The doorknob moves on its own, eventually the door cracks open. I tentatively step back out into the hallway. Basement door is open, inviting me to continue my descent. On to the next loop.
Just walking down the hallway, creepy sounds everywhere now. Rough voice on the radio strings together some numbers. Tells me to look behind me. I turn around. Nothing but shadows. God, it's dark. Turn the corner. There's somebody standing in the entryway. As I approach, the light snaps off and the person disappears. Step into the thick blackness where she once stood, light snaps back on. Nothing but cockroaches. I turn around.
|Are you sure the only you is you?|
And that's when I get eaten by Lisa. She's missing an eye, and she's hungry for my flesh. I wake up in the empty room again. Did the game restart? No, I still have my flashlight. What's that on the table? A paper bag, blood leaking out of the bottom. It starts talking to me. The gap in the door is a separate reality, don't you know? Fuck this game. Back to the hallway.
Cobwebs. Has time passed? No, it's still 23:59. There's a picture frame, didn't notice it before. Looks like somebody tore out the picture, but there's still words on the bottom. Zoom in. Woman's voice reads something creepy. She'll wait for me. Suddenly, I don't want to play anymore. But I press on. Another picture in the hallway now has "GOUGE IT OUT" written on it with an "X," and if I hit the "X" on my controller, the woman's eye burns out and the door to the basement opens again.
More messages in the hallway. I can hear them calling me from. HELLO! I'm sorry, Lisa, there's a monster inside of me. Refrigerator hangs from the rafters, leaking copious amounts of blood. A baby screams, the refrigerator swings violently. I see the apparition of Lisa, she runs at me and vanishes. She's in the reflection in the mirror, standing outside the window, waiting in the basement. The hallway turns red, the pictures become eyes, I start running. The hallways stop making sense, get reflected on themselves, turn in every direction. There's a hole in the wall. I peer inside, listen to the sounds of murder. Keep running.
|He has seen Willem Dafoe in drag|
Back in the hallway, flashlight turns blue. The clock chimes midnight. A baby laughs. I whisper into the microphone because the Internet told me to. The baby laughs again. My controller vibrates, a woman cries so frantically it almost sounds orgasmic. The phone rings. I have been chosen. One last trip through the basement door, no looking back. Then a teaser trailer for the new Silent Hill game being made by madmen Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro. You. Evil. Fucking. Bastards.
I turn off the Playstation, walk into my son's bedroom. He's sleeping peacefully on his bed, hugging his stuffed Genie doll. I lean over him, listen to his breathing, and kiss him softly on the forehead. Everything will be alright. Everything will be alright...
-e. magill 9/16/2014