Good horror matures like a terrifying wine. Whether it’s movies or games, the very best horror doesn’t age in a traditional sense. Brave a rewatch of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and you’ll quickly discover that Leatherface expertly slices through the decades. Tobe Hooper’s searing sweaty trip to the country is no less potent than it was 48 years ago.
Kojima himself admitted that he thought it would take longer before the internet discovered the final cutscene. Instead, in a matter of hours, streamers found P.T.’s secret as they finally escaped through the front door and the camera zoomed out from that first-person perspective; this was a mere taster of a full new Silent Hill game starring Norman Reedus. And the rest, quite literally, is sad, cancelled game history as even the demo itself was violently pulled from the PlayStation Store.
But P.T. isn’t just on every scary game list of all time because of what it was going to become. Standalone, this experience is one of the defining horror games of the 21st century thanks to its sheer relatable simplicity; you’re in an everyday house where something is going very wrong and you need to get out. And with no weapons or even in-game hands, all you can do is look and look closer. Ideal for when you would really rather not look at all.
Waking up in a dark room as a cockroach scuttles across the floor in front of your eyes, a door comes into focus. What lies behind that door is a dimly lit L-shaped corridor that you’re going to see an awful lot of. In fact, it’s all you’ll see as you discover that opening the door at the other end of the corridor will bring you right back to the start again.
And it all starts out looking very normal, if somewhat grimly menacing as a radio burbles away on a table talking about a murdered family – nothing to do with you, surely – and an alarm clock glows with the time, 23:59. Paintings line the walls and, as well as the locked front door, there appears to only be one other door, that you’ll eventually discover is the bathroom. Spoiler, you won’t like the elongated pile of pink flesh with a mouth that’s crying in the sink in there.
Each progressive loop of P.T. is effectively on rails. There are entirely randomised elements – on one of my many playthroughs I’ve glimpsed Lisa, the ghost that haunts you, waiting silently behind the rain-spattered window and thankfully never seen her again – but each corridor sequence has its own set beats. The bathroom door will be yanked closed with a violent bang, a glimpse of Lisa’s lit face briefly in the dark gap. The phone will ring. A blood-drenched paper bag may or may not talk. Words will appear on the walls. HELP. Which you might end up saying out loud while you play.
In another loop, a bleeding fridge swings perilously in the hallway, creaking overhead in a moment of sheer nightmare logic – something that the TGS Silent Hills trailer hinted at a lot more of. And, in probably one of the most memorable ‘nope’ sequences, an elongated faceless figure waits silently around the bend of the corridor, standing under the light, waiting for you to step forward. There’s even a very Kojima fourth wall-breaking sequence as the hauntings apparently literally break your game. P.T. plays you as hard as you play it.
And none of this happens at once. Each loop is a steady drip of fear. If you’re willing to risk being caught by a ghost (that sounds like it may or may not be urinating on you) you can take the time to catch your breath before you enter the next sequence. P.T. is relentlessly well directed. We are rats in Kojima and del Toro’s L-shaped trap, forced to face the horrors that have been carefully positioned to maximise jump scares as well as crank up the sheer dread for what might come next. Even if triggering the end sequence feels like trying to hack your way into a safe, the loops leading up to it are potent nightmare fuel.
In the eight years since, we’ve had a plentiful supply of genuinely scary games, many of which doff their caps politely to P.T. Resident Evil Village’s mind-unhingingly scary L-shaped corridor beneath House Beneviento feels like a creepy nod, and Visage even sells itself as a spiritual successor to P.T. as diabolical things start to happen in an everyday home.
Interestingly too, if, as reported, Bloober Team is responsible for the new Silent Hill, P.T.’s fingerprints are all over the deftly directed linearity of Layers Of Fear. For a self-contained game now hidden only on the lucky few PS4s who downloaded it at the time, P.T.’s influence is still terrifyingly strong. Put simply, whatever nightmares come next have a lot to live up to.
Louise Blain is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to NME.