In My Xbox Dreams, I See That Town

By Mark Delaney, 4 years ago
The only me is me. Are you sure the only you is you?In the Silent Hill story universe, some things are never explained. Those visiting the eerie town are blanketed in equal parts confusion and fog. For years, gamers took control of everyday people with dark secrets, wandered into Silent Hill, and were punished for what they had done. This structure was never better exemplified than it was in Silent Hill 2, a story that puts you in the perspective of James Sunderland, who arrives to town in search of his dead wife after she somehow writes him a letter begging for him to come find her. The statute of limitations has probably expired on a game that released in 2001, but because it’s such a remarkable narrative, I’ll refrain from spoiling it for those of you who still haven’t played this one of a kind title. Suffice it to say the series and horror games in general have been trying to match the quality of both story and scares since then. Thirteen years later, that looked like it was finally going to happen.

Your crossbow won't be enough here, DarylYour crossbow won't be enough here, Daryl

Gamescom 2014 brought with it one of the cleverest promos the industry has ever seen. There’s this new game, it’s free, go download it, said unknown developer 7780s Studio. Exclusive to PS4, the enigmatically titled P.T. was a first-person horror game that had you repeatedly travel through a looping L-shaped hallway trying to determine a way out in a hazy world that would antagonistically morph around you with each walkthrough. The game’s ultimate reveal, its best kept secret, is that P.T. wasn’t a game at all. It was a Playable Teaser for the next Silent Hill, strangely pluralized as Silent Hills. As if the tonally perfect concept demo and return of a fan favorite series wasn’t enough, the game’s credentials caused an uproar that you could almost hear through your computer screen when you read the news. Silent Hills was to be the joint effort of visionaries Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro, and starring Norman Reedus. It seemed too good to be true.

And so it was. A few weeks ago, Kojima and Konami parted ways, and according to some sources the divorce wasn’t pretty. Like all separations, the children suffered most. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was old enough to withstand it all and thus won’t be affected. Kojima has already confirmed he’ll be sticking around to see the game through to release, though his name was scratched from the box art. Silent Hills, however, in its vulnerable infancy, couldn’t bear the break up. The game was rushed off the digital store before Konami confirmed the worst: it was dead. To add insult to injury, just when horror fans were reeling from the abrupt end to such a promising project, the demo was then yanked from servers too. You can’t even re-download it. The only people who still have P.T. on their PS4’s are those that had it downloaded on their console on May 5th, the day it was abandoned, much like the town itself, shrouded in mystery and sadism.

The publisher’s victims wouldn’t go quietly though. Del Toro and Reedus have both very publicly cried out for the game’s salvation on multiple occasions. Fans quickly began spreading a petition that, at time of writing, has amassed over 147,000 signatures. Konami seems to believe that removing the game from the PlayStation servers would act like a memory wipe for gamers so they can wash their hands of the whole project, but really the opposite has happened. Demand for the game has never been higher. PS4s with P.T. loaded on them were selling on eBay a few weeks ago for upwards of $1000 in some cases. P.T. isn’t even a full game. It’s a concept demonstration, yet it’s creating a market for PlayStation 4s at 300% markup. Console plans were never revealed beyond the assumed PS4 release, but maybe for that reason specifically Phil Spencer and the Xbox brand need to step in and save the game.

Mom, is that you?Mom, is that you?

The Xbox One has found some success as of late after a very problematic first year and a half on the market. After fumbling its run-up to release by promising the opposite of what many vociferous gamers wanted, Microsoft’s Xbox division backtracked and fixed what they could, but the damage was done. PS4 sprinted out of the gate, nearly doubling Xbox One sales at times. Some say the lead will never be relinquished. Obviously Microsoft doesn’t buy that narrative, but they know they can’t wait for their newest console to surpass Sony’s on its own. Just last month, they actually outsold PS4 for the first time this year which is especially noteworthy when you consider that there wasn’t any new marquee exclusive reeling in buyers. The $50 price drop must be working. They need to continue to be proactive, and Spencer and company have shown their willingness to be so. They secured Rise of the Tomb Raider as a timed exclusive and have backed progressively minded studios like Remedy and Press Play to create games that stand out from the pack of military hero simulators. The biggest win of all could be yet to come, but not without obstacles.

For starters, Konami clearly doesn’t want to work with Kojima anymore on anything. His fingerprints were all over P.T. so if the game is rescued somehow, and fans and executives need to decide between publisher and director, the choice is obvious. It was Kojima’s vision, and along with Del Toro and the small team working under them, they deserve the credit for what made P.T. so special. I wouldn’t want Xbox to resurrect the game without Kojima coming back to finish what he’s started. Secondly, the franchise moniker is surely owned by Konami, so any forward progress on the game from here on might have to fall under a different name. Could Microsoft save Silent Hills as a project? Maybe, and I hope so, but can they save Silent Hills and still call it Silent Hills? That seems improbable. Konami would have to sign off on that, and they don’t seem open to that idea.

It’s not unprecedented though. EA bought BioWare at a time when Mass Effect was exclusive to Xbox and made it a multiplatform blockbuster. You might also recall a game called True Crime: Hong Kong that was set to release a few years ago before Activision cancelled it. It was later revived by Square Enix who liked it enough to do so but couldn’t do it under the True Crime franchise name, given that Activision has owned that series since it debuted on the original Xbox era. So they just changed the name, called it Sleeping Dogs instead, and guess what? It was successful. So successful that it spawned a current-gen re-release and is slated to get an MMO spinoff. This sort of exchange among publishers does have precedence, admittedly not between two exclusive platforms, but like we said maybe Silent Hills was always coming to Xbox One anyway. We just don’t know.

Yeah, I didn't need sleep anywaysYeah, I didn't need sleep anyways

Survival-horror used to be seen as a niche genre but was it ever truly niche? Just because Resident Evil and Dead Space abandoned their roots it seems many people just took that idea at face value. “Well they need to appeal to a larger audience,” you hear, but there has always been a demand for true horror titles. Recent hits like Outlast, Dying Light, and Alien: Isolation have proven console gamers want something scary. For every White Night created, there are a dozen first-person shooters and 8-bit platformers. Maybe the problem isn't the genre, but the publishers afraid to take risks. Horror games work opposite to most other genres. Instead of being a nearly omnipotent hero of the galaxy, horror games punish you with nothing in your inventory and often times nobody to help you and demand you find a way to overcome your obstacles. It's antithetical to how many games are made, but not to what many gamers want. Now maybe more than ever before, Silent Hill can thrive if done right, and what P.T. showed was Silent Hill done exactly right. It was classically enigmatic with hints of a story both depressing and sinister. It was innovative in a way only Kojima can pull off – one of the puzzles is partly solved in the pause menu. It was Silent Hill in a way we haven’t seen since the golden age of the series. It even seemed to have the potential to be more than that if given the chance.

Konami and Kojima’s break up after so many years of working together blindsided gamers, and nobody suffered from it more than fans of horror. Of course Silent Hill as a franchise will continue, as Konami has promised. The series was around long before Hideo Kojima worked on it, and we can be hopeful future Xbox titles in the series are praiseworthy too. However, having seen what could have been, I and so many others can’t help but desperately hope it still might be. I’m lucky enough to still have P.T. on my PS4 but I forget so many others haven’t played it for themselves, lights off and free of walkthroughs. It’s an experience that would sell – no, has sold -- consoles all by itself.

P.T. opens with the puzzling line quoted at the top of this article, and like other games in the series, points to parallel worlds as a story device. I don't want to believe the only Silent Hills is the one struck from existence forever due to a ruined business relationship. If it is at all feasible, Microsoft needs to strongly consider bringing P.T. and Silent Hills to the Xbox One.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.