It’s no secret that Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro’s surprise hit P.T has left a lasting impact on horror in gaming. Before the playable teaser for Silent Hills was taken down from the Playstation Network, it was downloaded by over one million people and was universally praised for its groundbreaking design. Now, it’s all but confirmed that Kojima has left Konami and Del Toro has stated that he has no further intent to be involved in video games. The future looks bleak, to put it mildly, for a release of Silent Hills, but that hasn’t stopped others from picking up the torch left by Kojima and Del Toro. Are these newcomers creating new hope for a doomed title, or are they venturing into places they shouldn’t go?
Earlier this month, Allison Road, a kickstarter game clearly influenced by P.T, was officially signed on by publisher Team 17. Early access title Layers of Fear also shares the repeating rooms of P.T, and Visage, another game about being trapped in a house with impossible spaces, is now on Steam Greenlight. It would appear that between any of these titles, at least one would scratch that itch that P.T left gamers, but it would be rash to call any of them spiritual successors to the instant classic.
Obviously, no product of an indie studio is going to measure up to the collaboration of one of gaming’s greatest directors and a true visionary of horror. It’s one thing to aspire to match brilliance, and another to try and duplicate it. P.T was a success because it was unlike anything before it. It utilized player expectations to create hope in an experience where none existed. For an entire game to take place in a single hallway, repeating ad infinitum, was unheard of. And yes, I did call P.T a game, as even at its abbreviated length, it surpasses all other horror titles released in the past decade.
And it wasn’t unique on just on a conceptual level, but a mechanical one as well. Where a veteran of survival horror can spot the infamous “monster closets” and other telltale design techniques in competitors, the triggers in P.T are impossible to spot. The game wasn’t afraid to test player limits, either. It took the internet two weeks to even beat the roughly two-hour game, as its design was so exquisitely elaborate.
Yes, Allison Road and others copy the claustrophobic environment of P.T. Yes, they look great on Unreal 4, enough to be considered worthy of comparison to P.T’s photorealistic Fox Engine. And yes, Allison Road and Layers of Fear feature spooky lady ghosts identical to Lisa, and it’s only a matter of time until Visage reveals its own. But none of them fully captures the ethos behind P.T. Allison Road relies on superficial visual cues for its comparisons, but lacks a compelling monster or the repeat hallways of the original, while Visage abandons the slow-burn tension of the original for cheap jump scares. Layers of Fear is the most original of the bunch, featuring a world of living paintings, but like Visage, aims to overstimulate rather than let the tension build.
P.T was content to be contained within its single serving size. The short story format allowed it to be as profound as it was concise, never overstaying its welcome. On the other hand, the wave of copycats all seek to be grandiose spectacles, the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie to P.T’s Kubrick-esque approach. The genius of P.T was that it didn’t overextend its reach, an aspect that is lost upon all of these replacement games.
Furthermore, P.T’s mystique existed because of its originality. If a tide of knock-offs floods the market at once, P.T will no longer be remembered as a trailblazer, but as a birthplace of schlock. Similar to how the original Slender, once acclaimed for its fresh concept, became vilified after it indirectly spawned dozens of derivative clones, P.T will be hated for leading to a menagerie of “I’m lost in my house” simulators.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but there’s a point where homage becomes caricature. Horror gaming is in desperate need of a facelift, as the line between actual survival-horror and spooky-shooter has been blurred as of late. What the industry needs are more innovators like P.T, not a catalogue of unoriginal clones. Like the recurring hallway from P.T, these replicas will create an endless series of identical games, and for me, that is real horror.