Sunday, October 26, 2014

PT Terrifying, until you figure it out

 Last night I finally faced my fears and went back to re-challenge the Silent Hills Playable Teaser. Oh it made me jump here and there, but now I feel bad for joining in on over hyping this thing. You see, days ago, I got freaked out and killed and had to walk away. Then, my sister Sara, who was also playing, figured out that if you do not face the ghost, she won’t kill you. I mean at all.

   With that knowledge in hand, Sara, my other Sister Emily and I set about solving the puzzles, and one by one, we each completed the demo. We did observe some mild differences between each play through, but nothing substantial. (Spoiler alert) Basically, when the bathroom door opens a crack, press R3 to peer into it. In the next loop, go into the bathroom, grab the flashlight, and look at the thing in the sink. Then, no worries, the ghost tries to break down the door, the intensity of the attack varies. But she won’t. The door will then re-open. When you see the writing on the wall, backtrack to the phone and it should say, “hello,” backtrack to the wall, and a letter will be moved from one wall to the other. Keep doing it until the message reads, “I can hear them calling me from Hell.” There are six pieces of a picture, one in the broken bottles by the clock, one in the vase holding the plant, one in the corner by the teddy bear, one tucked into the support beam between the bathroom and the front door, one on the right side of the stairs leading down to the door that starts the next loop. Finally, one in the menu, press options, then R3, and you've re-assembled the photo. Next, you will see a message on a wedding photo saying “gouge it out, zoom in on it, then press X. Next, follow the distorted hallway to a spot where the picture has fallen off the wall, stare into the hole in the wall and witness an audio murder. Then follow that hall until it normalizes. Finally, despite all the debate, we can say the final puzzle is solved thusly, in that we repeated this multiple times, and it worked every time. 1) Wait for the clock to strike 12, 2) Stop moving and say “Jarith,” into the microphone. 3) Wait as much as 30 seconds, the baby will laugh. 4) Take 10 steps in any direction. You do not need to wait for the haunting to end, but DO NOT FACE THE GHOST. The baby will laugh again. 5) Hold still until the controller starts, and then ceases to vibrate. The Baby will laugh a third and final time. 6) Answer the phone. These steps worked for all three of us who completed the demo.

   Now, why am I moving from raw excitement to disappointment? Well, around the Net there is all
kinds of stuff about, how the play through is never the same twice, the ghost responds to you when you talk into the mike…. Oh, DO NOT YELL THE SECRET CODE INTO THE MIC. It makes Lisa very angry. But in reality, most of these things are nuances. I had expected more, especially since, when I got locked in the bathroom, Lisa made it much more clear to me that she wanted my head that first time through, than she did in any other play through. It was enough to scare me into setting the game down. But now we know, don’t face her, and you have nothing to fear. Face the mirror in the bathroom, and when the door opens, she does not come through. Once you know this trick, she becomes a nuisance, not a threat.

   You see, once we figured out the secret, we never saw any of the hauntings. We never faced them. When we heard her, we froze and held real still, like Dr. Grant facing off with the T-Rex. We knew she was there, we knew she could be in the rafters, or outside the window, or in the bathroom, or right behind us. We knew that witnessing these hauntings could lead to possession or death, and so we used that knowledge against the game. We beat it, using the exact same method, three times last night, which leads me to a concern.

   Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem could be played up to three times with varying results. But there were three distinct paths. Mass Effect, not a horror game,  is never the same twice until you reach the end of the third, where you have three, similar endings to choose from. It seems like a lot of games where there are supposed to be changing worlds so that everybody has a unique experience fail at some point. PT is no different. All three of us had, largely, the same experience, leavng all three of us feeling let down, although we all had our jump moments. 

  Speaking of jump moments... the demo is heavily reliant on jump scares. Once you know when and where they are, and how to avoid them, it ceases to be scary. What's worse is that there are several random loops where nothing happens at all, and in these moments the demo can get dull and boring. Although to be fair, these are the loops to work on the photo puzzle, which will move the game along, but of you don't know that, you will likely get bored.  Lastly, while this demo was fun and scary the first time through, it’s not exactly re-playable, once you know what to do. Then there is the full length trailer, which looks to offer more of the same, but on a larger scale. Basically, the game has become a glorified Nightmare on 13th, a horror themed fun house, rather than a fully realized HP Lovecraft like experience.

   The puzzles are overly complex and really need a community to solve. Thank goodness my mom knows German, which was close enough to whatever language it was that the messages would appear in to allow us to figure out the puzzles. None of us could have gotten this done on our own, without an online guide, and while that might sound cool, for Silent Hill, it's not. Silent Hill is a personal horror story, that is meant to be experienced in isolation. The clues should have been easier to decipher, for us solo gamers. 

   These facts have me worried about the final product, because a lot of promises are being made, and while I cede the point that if anyone can deliver, it’s Kojima and Del Tororo, having spoilers and knowing what to do will damage the experience. Meaning, they have got to have more than a few subtle changes per play through. Things should change more radically, or more precisely, erratically. The over reliance on jump scares is troubling. Sure, you will get a few screams out of me, but in the end, it won’t linger like Silent Hill should. Silent Hill should make me afraid to fall asleep. PT, once we figured out the trick, didn't deliver. 

   Silent Hill is in a funk, as a series. It hasn't been scary in a long time, in part, because they have lost touch with what makes Silent Hill good. It’s not a confusing story, it’s not jump scares, and it is definitely not an inability to defend yourself. In fact, Shattered Memories just pissed me off. It’s about not understanding what you are looking at. It’s about being simultaneously repulsed and fascinated with the monsters that are before you. Half the time, it’s about knowing something is out there, but not being able to see it. The confusion is in the environment, in the creatures, not in the story.

   Silent Hill 1, 2 and 3 all were very well written stories. Even Silent Hill 4 got at least that right.
Silent Hill Homecoming’s story was too similar to Silent Hill 2’s. Shattered Memories story was Silent Hill in name only, and the others were a convoluted mess. Confusion in the narrative isn't the solution to SH’s problems.

   Neither is denying the protagonist the ability to defend themselves. Sure, limit our resources, but if there is something I don’t understand menacing me in the hall, and I have to get past it, I need a way past it. If I get too close, it will grab me. Shattered Memories wasn't scary, it was obnoxious. Denying me the ability to fend monsters off wasn't fun, it was frustrating. It didn't induce panic, it induced rage. It didn't induce fear, it lead to me tossing my Wii mote against the wall. Which is why I am confused by the game journalists who railed against Shattered Memories, but now praise games like Outlast, and Amnesia, as if they are the best thing ever. It is just the same thing as Shattered Memories, but in First Person. Run, and hide, and pray. And it’s not fun. Not fun at all.

   For something short and sweet and to the point, like PT, sure, it works. But for a 20 hour game? No thanks. Silent Hills could be a First Person game, I’d be fine with that, but if all it is is running and hiding, I will pass.

   Kojima, and Del Toro should study the first three games, and deeply, so that they genuinely understand what made these games work. Impossibly hard monsters (Downpour), or making me run and hide constantly, doesn't make for a good 20 hour game. Tragically, it doesn't help if the combat is too easy, and supplies to readily available. 

   While the game journalists get giddy at the latest release of anything that’s actually obnoxious to those of us who do not get paid for good reviews, in reality, games like Alien Isolation, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and Outlast are terrible. They are games I literally played once, and walked away, never to return. The thing is, the new Silent Hill cannot afford to be another one of those games. It has to be something more. What’s worse is that I could not tell you what makes Silent Hill work, only what breaks it. Kojima and Del Toro have a tall order saving a series that jumped the shark with its “reboot,” years ago, and failed to get back on track with Downpour. The talent lining up behind Silent Hills is immense, but if this game is just another Amnesia clone, it will be the final nail in the coffin of a series that used to be synonymous with terror. 

A 3 out of 5: Great the first time through, but subjects to moments where nothing is happening, lacking in variety, and easily avoidable dangers. The finished game needs to be much more than this. 

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