Silent Hills and the Modern Evolution of Horror Gaming

One of the biggest revelations at this year’s Gamescom was the release of P.T, or Playable Trailer. Announced as a playable demo for a new horror game from a new company, players who downloaded it found that the demo was actually for Silent Hills, the latest installment in the Silent Hill franchise. Footage of the game spread online like wildfire, and now Silent Hills is one of the most hotly anticipated games out there.

P.T was notable in the way it approached horror. The player walks around the same L shaped hallway over and over, the actual horror coming from the dread they feel as their surroundings become gradually altered and they’re given the feeling that something awful has happened in this space. Putting the pieces together of that event eventually allows the player to ‘escape’ the hallway and discover the secret of the trailer.

This marks a noticeable shift in game developers are approaching horror gaming. Indie developers have been exploring a more thoughtful, tense brand of horror for a while. Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Games, released in 2010, became a hit online due to gameplay focused on making the player more vulnerable and unable to fight back against the monsters of the game. In 2012, a free download of Slender: The Eight Pages was made available online. Based on the online myth of Slender Man, the player had to collect eight pages from a journal before the Slender Man caught up with them.

This was followed in 2013 by Outlast by Red Barrels, another survival horror game that followed a similar storyline with the same mechanics. This year, around the same time as Silent Hills’ reveal, another horror indie title called Five Nights at Freddy’s, a Steam Greenlight game, began receiving attention. The game is a point and click title, with the player trapped in one room with limited power to track and ward off their pursuers.

All these titles have been praised for their more subtle, yet still terrifying approach to horror. All playable characters are unable to fight back, meaning new gaming mechanics have had to be devised. In Amnesia, the player can open and close doors slowly, meaning they can peek out to check the coast is clear and close a door behind them to hide. Outlast and Five Nights at Freddy’s use cameras as a defense, but give the player limited power to use them so they must learn to use them at the optimum moment to avoid attack. Overall, these games, some with very little development power behind them, have become some of the scariest horror games of recent times.

Many fans of the Silent Hill franchise are hoping the P.T trailer is forecasting a return to form. Earlier titles focused more on atmosphere building, and the promotion of playable characters as everyday people who wouldn’t be able to fight off monsters. In P.T, many nods were made back to these titles both in reference and in gameplay, so it’s looking hopeful that Silent Hills will be following the leads that Amnesia, Outlast et.al. have created. If it’s as scary as the trailer, it’s looking good for Silent Hill’s comeback.

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