Oh sure, P.T. came out last week during Gamescom. I downloaded it, I enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to Silent Hills. The teaser had oodles of atmosphere and plenty of “scary” bits, though a little less reliance on jump scares would have been preferable. But all the time I was playing, I was thinking of a game that I enjoyed a lot more. One that, for me, was a lot more unsettling, a damn sight less frustrating and overall more rewarding to play. Then I realised that I’d never spoken about it in one of my articles, which simply won’t do.
Let me talk to you about The Mirror Lied.
Created by Freebird Games (a.k.a. Kan “Reives” Gao – the genius behind To The Moon), The Mirror Lied is similar in many ways to P.T., inasmuch as it really isn’t a full game. It’s more of an interactive experience with gameplay elements. Gao describes it himself as an “abstract interpretation”, even going so far as to deny it’s even a horror game. It’s also written and played in such a way as to leave the story somewhat open to interpretation. In places, it’s deliberately obscure, but it always maintains a sort of order; simultaneously logical and illogical. What I enjoy most about The Mirror Lied – and which P.T. lacks – is a greater sense of wrong.
This is difficult to describe without spoiling things for either game, but let’s try anyway.
In P.T., a common theme is things disappearing or re-appearing, often in strange and warped ways. The game sort of thrives on this change, relying on the player to notice this at the most opportune (and thus scary) time. Sometimes, this is right away, but not always. Sometimes, it’s creepier to notice that something has been changed and you didn’t even catch on, which is normally the best time to surprise the player with another, even scarier thing.
In The Mirror Lied, this change exists, but almost solely in the latter form. Changes happen, but the player’s attention is deliberately never brought to it. And the spookiest fucking thing is that it just keeps happening. You’re always waiting for the secondary shock, the thing that’s going to make you shit your pants… and it never fucking happens.
WHICH IS INEXPLICABLY SCARIER, SOMEHOW.
Another thing that The Mirror Lied excels at is the soundtrack, which consists of precisely one tune. It only needs the one, because it’s a creepy-ass music box that you can hear no matter where you are. Sometimes, there are other instruments that punctuate the tune with a sense of ominous dread, but the underlying spookiness remains. Of course, you can simply turn the music box off… but the silence is worse.
In a way that P.T. just can’t replicate, The Mirror Lied resembles a real nightmare. I say this because, while P.T. can certainly be described as “nightmarish”, it’s not the kind of thing that elicits a real feeling of dread in me. That might be down to personal preference, but there’s more to it than just the subjective fear factor. It takes a great deal of skill to craft a truly spooky game without the use of any jump scares; without the overtly gory and macabre setting. Hell, The Mirror Lied does it with 16-bit graphics in a 9MB download that will run on any PC in the last 10 years.
The best part? The game is completely free. Go give it a try and see if you agree with me. Just make sure you play it in the dark and with headphones on, for maximum immersion.
A twenty-something gamer from the North-East of Scotland. By day, I’m a Computer Technician at a local IT recycling charity, where I fix and build PCs. Outside of that, most of my time is spent either sleeping or gaming, which I try accomplish in equal amounts.