By Marshall Garvey
As I’ve said forthrightly before (or you’ve likely deduced from the games I’ve written about), I’m the fossil gamer of the Last Token Gaming staff. I say this not to knock my reliance on older titles for my reviews, but rather to point out that it’s kind of my only option. This is due to the fact that I’m really, really left in the dust in each next gen arms race. To illustrate this, not only do I not have a PS4 or Xbox One at this moment; I didn’t even get a PS2 and Xbox 360 until roughly half a decade after their respective releases. I’ve usually had the excuse of not having the gobs of cash necessary to buy a new system right away, but considering some hundreds of my recent cash flow have gone to state-of-the-art things like a Watergate dartboard and 1963’s “Tom Jones” on DVD, my sclerotic console buying is even more pitiful.
Luckily, my colleague Terry Randolph stepped in recently to give me a dose of modernity, and one that needed little persuasion to play. The new P.T. (that stands for “playable teaser” for those as uninitiated as me) for the PS4, originally released as a fairly anonymous horror demo, revealed itself upon completion to be a small sample of the upcoming “Silent Hills.” This of course is the next installment of the premier survival horror franchise, and even if you’re not a loyal fan of the previous games, the fact that it’s being brought to life by a dream team of Hideo Kojima, Guillermo Del Toro and Norman Reedus is mouthwatering. As for my level of SH fanhood, let’s just say that I refer to a green military jacket of mine as my “James Sunderland jacket”…so to play this demo, knowing the supergroup-heralded blockbuster it’s prefacing, is an opportunity I’ll gladly be pried away from my N64 to seize.
And for a mere demo, man, this packs in an experience that feels as replete as an entire game. As such, it may not even end up indicating what the entire “Silent Hills” game will be like. The graphics will of course be better, and the story much more layered if not outright different altogether. Should that be the case, this teaser still works as an intense dollop of fright on its own.
Even for “downgraded” graphics in a small sample, the P.T. looks impeccable. Unlike the third-person perspective of most “Silent Hill” installments, here the action is observed from a jostling first-person view that recalls “Condemned 2: Bloodshot,” albeit more fluid. Given the few stages here are set entirely in the same looping hallway, this makes the whole experience more genuine and claustrophobic. Like some of best levels in the series, the house looks tranquil and pristine at first, but eventually degrades into a grotesque hall of indescribable frights. The second level in particular is a mindfuck masterwork, where the hallway is doused in blood red, the pictures are replaced with random spinning eyeballs, and the player runs in a blurry fashion akin to being jacked up on Skooma in “Morrowind.”
Even superior to the graphics and presentation is the atmosphere, second in importance for an SH game only after the macabre story. Here the atmosphere is built flawlessly, with sparse music and a select array of sound effects to build the tension. Each time you pass through the door and go back into the hallways, the audial backdrop grows more unnerving with rainfall, intermittent radio broadcasts, creaking and banging doors, magnified footsteps, a crying baby, and a woman bawling from an unanswered phone. This sounds like a lineup of stock horror cliches, but in the tradition of this series, they’re not only originally done but also presented as crucial details in the aforementioned macabre story. As for said plot, I don’t want to give away the scant details, but let’s just say your house may be visited by a ghost…
Unfortunately, there is a serious drawback to the demo that’s already made the rounds in other reviews: the difficulty. Especially after my “Levels of Hell” piece about Raid on Sullust, I want to make it clear that I have no problem with a game being substantially difficult. If anything, a healthy dose of challenge makes beating a great game all the more gratifying. Especially in a title that’s large in scale and story, a good balance between easy scenarios to savor and hard ones is necessary. But there’s a fine line between a frustrating yet clear challenge, and something that’s a chore to even begin figuring out. The “Silent Hills” teaser has quickly become a paramount example of the latter, forcing the player to figure out a scattershot array of obscure objectives later on. The worst comes when the player has to listen for a crying or laughing sound from the woman’s ghost in order to summon her, requiring them to run to a mirror, phone or radio. Sounds simple, but the game randomly selects which one you have to go to, and the laughing and crying are barely distinguishable from each other. The frustration of this scenario grew so intense for Terry and I that we ended up consulting a walkthrough as if we were deep into a full game, and even then we still couldn’t complete it.
Setting aside the absurd difficulty of that last level, the “Silent Hills” playable teaser succeeds as a short but merciless horror experience. And if it ends up being an accurate preview of the completed game, then we may be looking forward to an SH game on par with the first three classics, and perhaps even better. Additionally, if you’re craving a dose of horror gaming but can’t get your hands on this sample, don’t worry. There’s a new downloadable horror game for Windows that delivers comparable terrors, all while simultaneously torpedoing your childhood memories of Chuck E. Cheese!
Addendum: Since the “Silent Hill” cat’s out of the bag and you’ll probably open the Vatican Vaults before beating the last level, you can gander at the unlockable game trailer here if you’d like: