The Exit 8 & Platform 8 — liminal stop

The liminal space has slowly filled up over the years. While the backrooms, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and a whole host of other media slowly built upon the vibes and started to blend it more and more with horror, it was P.T., Konami’s ill-fated Kojima-helmed Silent Hills demo, that established a definitive form. A new kind of horror that managed to slide in between established genre and put a level of mystery back into it, while at the same time being rather minimalistic and “in your head”. Gore is present, but gore serves a purpose.

I could go on on how Konami evidently threw all of that out together with P.T., only to dump their horror franchise with the least likely team imaginable, but there are other developers out there that are at least making inroads into the liminal horror space. Kotake Create is one of them and has a viral hit with The Exit 8. A very simple liminal premise: you are trapped in an underground Japanese metro-station corridor that loops unto itself. In order to find the exit, you must continue forward. Unless you find an “anomaly”, something distinctly off and maybe otherworldly, in which case you need to turn around and go back.

It’s a simple liminal hellscape in which you start to scrutinize every little detail once you’ve had your first taste of the corridor’s laws. The anomalies themselves are both subtle and overt. It’s a nice balance that gives the player a breather when an obvious one pops up and makes them curse whatever entity is out there when the direction sign displays that dreaded “Exit 0”, signaling a reset of your efforts.

Is it fun? Yeah, in the Until Dawn sense that this is great when played in a group and everybody’s calling out details and pointing at the screen. There’s that communal survival sense of “I would definitely know how to survive a situation like this” that gets collectively trounced whenever the loop returns to its origins. It’s a good form of release.

In terms of graphics the game is a bit odd though. It definitely feels like a so-called asset flip; a game which is built with pre-generated assets, stuck together to create the bare minimum of gameplay. In The Exit 8 it works though, the asset flip vibe, creates the perfect liminal base to start. This is nothing special. This is standard. This is the point.

What is annoying though, is that it seems to turn up a lot of Unreal Engine effects to eleven and expects the game to blatantly become better through it. And it just might get away with it. The blurring effect is so heavy it produces artifacts and keeps you second-guessing yourself. The edge distortion of the field of view is heavy enough to make it feel annoying. The shadow work is not smooth enough to make you think it might be intentional. Or not.

That’s the thing, of course. Is the game employing meta-gaming in making you second guess yourself through a ludicrous use of effects? Or was it another asset flip default that just happened to casually enhance a deeper layer of the game? Well, maybe both. The Exit 8 feels like a perfectly timed combination of theme and mechanics.

Things become a lot more awkward with Platform 8, the game’s sequel. Instead of escaping a metro station corridor, here you are stuck on an infinitely long set of metro cars as you hope to arrive the eighth stop and finally disembark.

You’d be forgiven to think it would just be a retread of the previous game. And indeed I found myself unconsciously applying the same laws to the cars as I applied to the corridors, but nope. That won’t work here. There’s only forward as you press on from car to car through the little connecting doors. The challenge lies in reading the electronic displays above the side doors. These display the next station (and your progress through some cute Japanese wordplay), but can also provide instructions as anomalies appear once more in subtle or blunt fashion.

Whereas The Exit 8 left most of its ideas and actions with the player, Platform 8 tends to fall back on specific instructions. Don’t follow them exactly or misinterpret them and it’s back to stop 0 once more. It’s a more frustrating experience that also takes the unease out of it. Regardless, you always press on to the next car, and seeing the anomaly plainly with or without instructions of what to do, makes you second guess if your decision is the right one. Should I interact with it? Shouldn’t I? How literal is that instruction?

It’s a bit of a shame, as The Exit 8 was simple, short and left you kind of hopeful of how the post-P.T. landscape could evolve. Platform 8 feels like a lateral move, an attempt to expand upon the concept, rather than provide a full-fledged sequel. It’s a less holistic experience, but it still ahs some interesting thing in there. It isn’t bad.

I do hope Kotake Create keeps pushing on. Diving deeper into the concept and building upon these foundations. That might mean a few more attempts to get it right, but when they do, it will likely be a defining experience within the liminal genre.