Dual Review and Rating: P.T. & Layers of Fear

I think P.T. (the playable trailer for the now cancelled Silent Hills) is the scariest gameplay experience ever crafted. I’ve experienced a lot of extremely scary games: Blair Witch Volume 1; Silent Hill 2; Condemned 2; Fatal Frame… but no game has inspired as intense of a feeling of absolute dread as P.T. did. It’s that feeling of not wanting to progress out of the fear of possibilities of what might happen if you do. I’ve never felt that feeling stronger than in that small L-shaped hallway. Something as simple as turning the corner becomes dreaded like opening your closet door at night. Even taking steps became difficult.

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The reason this game is so scary is a combination of things:

  1. The sound production is extremely well-made for the purpose of being creepy. All the ambient sound in that hallway gives you the sense that it is alive and hostile, and something scary patiently waits for you.
  2. The world looks totally authentic. I always kind of thought models and textures that were a bit fuzzier or less-developed, like in the early Silent Hill games, were always going to be scarier than well-developed models and textures, because they are less coherent and more vague; and what’s less understandable ends up being scarier. But P.T. proves that idea wrong. These are some of the best most realistic models I’ve ever seen, and that doesn’t make it any less scary.
  3. The game establishes a rules system where there are no rules. Once we’ve seen several of P.T.’s scares, we develop the sense that literally anything has the potential to happen. So it adds to the fear wondering — and imagining — what lies ahead.
  4. The scares are unpredictable. Behind the scenes of P.T. there’s a large and complex scripting procedure that dictates what scares will happen when. Part of the procedure regards tasks that must be complete, and part of it is random. So as a player, it’s really difficult to get a sense of when the scares will take place and how exactly to progress. Even if you’ve played the game once before, the ordering and pace of the primary moments still remains relatively unclear. So you’re always on edge.
  5. The scary imagery is very creative. Once you become familiar with the L-shaped hallway, know that every element of it will be utilized… I won’t spoil it with details, but a lot happens in that little space that takes perfect advantage of its potential to be scary.
  6. I also think this environment makes the experience extra scary, because it seems to be just a normal house. It’s not like some kind of far-fetched, extravagant horror setting like an asylum or a haunted library or something; it’s just a house. A house that looks a lot like anyone’s real house… When we go downstairs to get a glass of milk at night, we see things that look a lot like the images in this game. So this game kind of realizes fears that I’ve had in my own house and make them even worse.

P.T. might not be much of a game at the end of the day. And that “finding the ending” procedure is very confusing and weird. But considering the game’s purpose and how it sought to accomplish that purpose — to be scary — I’ve decided it was one of the most successful games I’ve experienced. It made me want to cry.

View the Longplay here.

My rating for 2014’s P.T. for PS4 is…

★★★★★

This game honestly changed the way I see horror in video games. I do believe there is now a new standard for scary… as can be seen from the “spiritual successors”.

P.T. was truly just a intended as a teaser. But now that the game it was ‘teasing’ has been cancelled, it remains as a relic of what might have been — and ultimately cherished by horror fans. If physical copies had been made of P.T., they would now be considered rare collectibles and fought over at conventions… This was an important achievement in the gaming world and will be remembered in gaming history, as it started a visible shift in horror direction. As soon as fans of the genre wiped away the tears caused by the news that Silent Hills was cancelled, they jumped into action to try and preserve this new idea and ultimately keep the movement alive! First it was the P.T. remake in Unity. Then the Allison Road teaser surfaced and was revealed to be potentially be the next best thing to P.T. But somewhere in between, and early-access version of Layers of Fear was released on Steam. And this one is quite possibly the real deal.

Layers of Fear is very similar to P.T. Enough so that someone who was really looking forward to Silent Hills should definitely check it out. It’s got the same level of environmental detail and what looks like a very similar graphics engine. It too is a first person exploration game where your primary function as player is to walk around and trigger the spooky stuff to happen. It’s got great sound production, creative imagery, and also sets up a lack of rules in the environment — often scripting the scene to change when you aren’t looking, making doors disappear and walls move away and stuff like that. Layers of Fear also has an antagonist who’s extremely similar to P.T.’s “Lisa”; she is a rarely seen tall, sobbing woman that will, in a few specific moments, be the provocateur of a terrorizing moment. Whether Layers of Fear was officially inspired by P.T. is not certain, but it’s certainly similar enough that I would think anyone who’s played both would assume so. The resemblance is uncanny.

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But the game has several differences from P.T. that are important to point out. These things make it ultimately its own thing:

  1. Layers of Fear has a haunted mansion with creepy paintings and candles motif, which is very different than P.T.’s modest, modern house setting. But as traditional and “done before” as this setting may be, time with the game will tell of the new direction it’s taken and original ways it’s used.
  2. This is much more of a full game than P.T. While it does feature some back-tracking and repeated rooms/halls, it’s more often than not taking you to new locations in the mansion every step of the way.
  3. The puzzles in Layers of Fear are much simpler than in P.T. They are easier to route and thus don’t take too much mental energy away from the creepiness.

As a horror enthusiast, I was very impressed with this game. If you like creative, supernatural horror (my favorite kind), then you won’t be disappointed here. Layers of Fear is a good title, because as the game progresses, one can feel it affecting on a deeper and deeper level, like its getting scarier and scarier. It does inspire the sense of dread — almost as much as P.T. did. Some parts are truly terrifying and I did NOT want to move forward. I think this could possibly be the second scariest game I’ve ever experienced.

View the Longplay here.

My rating for 2015’s Layers of Fear (early access) is…

★★★★½

The game ends without much of a conclusion; it basically thanks the player for investing in early access and provides a vague hint at future material. Will this game be re-released in a full-er version? Or will add-on content be released? Who knows, but I would like to be there to see it when whatever is going to happen happens.

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