“Silent Hill 4 redux”, a P.T. review

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“Silent Hill” is the masterpiece they just can’t leave alone. After a decade of watching Konami lending its masterwork title to be used and abused by merit-less and unskillful western developers, one naturally becomes distrusting. Promote a new Silent Hill with an actor from a popular TV show that has no inkling of resonance with the game series; a filmmaker who, qualities aside, is not known for either the particular surreal tone or the finer nuances in narrative and aesthetic sophistication that elevated Silent Hill; and a game director whose previous collaborations with other works that not his own have ended in disaster, and whose very stylistic trademarks (design maximalism, adoption of an anime aesthetic with particular emphasis on its crude brand of humor) stand in earnest opposition to the essence of Silent Hill… promote a new Silent Hill thus, and one confirms the now constant suspicion that every new Silent Hill will come as another nail to stick into the proverbial coffin.

Which is why P.T., the interactive teaser where Konami chose to encapsulate this idiotic marketing ploy is so puzzling, because it is the finest videogame experience to be associated with the Silent Hill name ever since The Room. It is perhaps fitting that 10 years after the release of the last ‘true’ Silent Hill, Konami chose it specifically as the basis for this singular demo. Not that it is likely this was a decision meant only to honor its legacy in celebratory fashion; the growing popularity of first person horror games that lived of scraps of that singular fabric that made Silent Hill the best of its kind – Amnesia, Outlast and even that Slender thing and its clones – makes the return to first person perspective seem thought from a marketing angle (and the since released trailer, showing people’s ‘reaction’s’ to the piece indicates as much). But no matter, for in execution, P.T. honors Silent Hill 4’s design, its tension and mood, whilst reusing much of its iconography with the intelligence I associate with its original authors.

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The Team Silent level of quality craftsmanship, present in the superb use of the FOX engine, and the demo’s distinct Japanese dream-logic structure, are both crucial elements of SH that are here recuperated and that had hitherto been missing from the series. The audio-visuals are some of the finest seen in this novel generation, and the end result feels as unsettling, scary and ominous as the best Japanese horror. That said, the team behind the demo – mostly comprised of Metal Gear developers from the FOX team and other Konami staff – may be technically superior, but seem to lack the high-brow artistic vision that the finest notes in the Silent Hill milieu have achieved. On a conceptual level, the demo is too much Alternate Reality game and too little psychological meditation, and while it reuses several of The Room’s finest scare tactics, it never delivers anything truly unexpected or avant-garde; in fact, one of its most obvious detriments lies in its lack-lustre musical score and the graphics’ grounded FOX-engine aesthetic, both too somber and predictable, especially in the surreal excerpts, lacking the brilliant, erudite imagery of Team Silent (the best we get is a direct quotation of Lynch’s “Eraserhead” – too little, too obvious).

Being designed by Japanese was enough to make P.T. an object worthy of admiration, surely the finest of its genre in many years, but the lack of true authorial direction is too evident in this palate opener. Understandable given its nature, but a true Silent Hill game will need more. Which is where the names of Kojima and Del Toro come in – will they provide artistic vision for this team? Will they truly helm the project, or is this precisely what it seems: a marketing push? If so, who will steer this new boat? Is it a Japanese or a Western developer? Too many questions and uncertainties to be sure, and a teaser remains just that: a teaser. There is no indication that P.T. was created or designed so as to have any relation with the new Silent Hill beyond its marketing, and so one can only wait that the positive reception to the demo will be taken into consideration when producing the new title. Even thus, P.T. has the merits of making my PS4 finally seem worthy for giving me this small glimmer of gold, and for making a cautious optimist out of me. Before playing it, I had nothing but despise for Konami’s treatment of future iterations… now I have a tenuous, melancholic hope. Whether this distant hope leads me further down into despair or rapture, only time will tell.

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“In my restless dreams,
I see that town. Silent Hill. You promised me you’d take me
there again someday. But you never did.”

Here’s hoping that promise may finally be fulfilled.

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