Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Aspyr Media
Review Context: I have played many horror games like the Silent Hill series, Clock Tower games, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast, and Rule of Rose. I completed this game in one playthrough in about five hours, and I’m two thirds through a second playthrough.
Date of Playthrough: February 26, 2016
Disclosure: This review was based off of a review copy.
The best kind of horror is the type that will worm it’s way into your head. It will make a little nest and start messing with you, making you fear what isn’t there, play tricks with your eyes, and tap into your fears. When it comes to horror games, not many, though a good handful, have accomplished this feat. Layers of Fear is one of these games that will go out of its way to mess with you and make you truly scared without the crippling use of the dreaded jump scare.
Layers of Fear follows a painter as he attempts to finish his masterpiece. You traverse though the Victorian mansion where he and his family reside. The story is told environmentally as you find notes, letters, news clippings, and simple objects that reflect the tragic downfall of the painter’s life and career. While a lot of these story pieces are hidden very well and encourage exploration to find, it doesn’t detract from the chills and thrills of the game as everything falls apart in front of you.
The gameplay is in line with the trend of “walking simulators” that have been pretty popular to make. With light puzzles that you are required to complete before continuing, the main mystery of the game is compelling and brings about many good questions of the events that made everything fall apart for this painter. Without spoiling anything, the story will answer these questions for you. Layers of Fear is a pretty short game, being roughly around five hours on a single playthrough. Layers of Fear is pretty easy in difficulty, and even though the game gets in its scares, there is no real sense of danger as the horrors in the house never seem to pose a threat. There are a few different endings that will be based off some of your actions in the game, and the collectibles and story pieces all make for good encouragement to replay the game.
The controls in Layers of Fear are very simplistic. On top of movement and camera controls, the right trigger acts as the interaction button, and B is the cancel to back out of letters or notes. Some notes or handwritten scribbles are difficult to read, so while looking at the note X will provide you with a typed out text of what is written so you can better understand the ramblings of a madman or pleas of a friend or family member. The simplicity of the controls make the game easy to learn and play, though thecamera does feel stiff when playing.
Atmosphere is important to horror; it’s what makes or breaks the conditions you are trying to achieve. While Layers of Fear does have jump scares in the game, it is not reliant on them, which is typically the crippling factor of the horror genre. Layers of Fear goes with a psychological approach to its horror. Tiny creaks and cracks will have the hair on your arms rise, as you question whether someone is following you or not. Turn one corner into a dead end and when you turn around the hall you came down will have completely disappeared, then turn back and that dead end now has a door. If that’s not enough to start messing with you, the game will go an extra step and change things right in front of your eyes; paintings, desks, and chairs will melt or move in front of your eyes. Pictures will change their image or size, writings will pop up on walls, and entire rooms will turn upside down. This all makes for some excellent horror, although occasional texture popping and screen tearing will pull you out of the experience.
The music and sound effects, which is equally if not more important than atmosphere to horror are phenomenal. The music is eerie and foreboding while still being entrancing and beautiful to hear. The laughs, cries, creaks, and breathing is very well done, never overstaying it’s purpose and making you fear what is over your shoulder at anytime. Simple audio clues will signify that you have completed a puzzle or will subtly point you in the direction you need to go in, making a smooth experience that keeps the pace of the game going steady. The voice acting in the game is very well done. It is only present when story related events or objects are found, which makes an impact on the events as well as emphasizes the importance of what is being said. The gameplay of Layers of Fear is very reminiscent of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, while the music feels inspired by the Silent Hill series.
The themes in the game are very important to the story, with ideas revolving around love, loss, anger, regret, abuse, and even mental illness and alcoholism. Each impacts the story in a different way, but all contribute to the fall and chaos in this painter’s life. Your actions and the ending you get are up for interpretation on the events and can leave you feeling sympathetic or horribly disgusted by the character you play as. While no major twists, the revealing of the actual events can be surprising. The ending I received was appropriate and not what I expected. It also encouraged me to replay the game based on the main character’s actions and dialogue.
Overall, Layers of Fear is a fantastic experience and easily one of the better horror games that we have gotten over the last view years. The very contained experience in the short time was a good choice, so doing another playthrough is enjoyable without having any drags in progression. Fans of the horror genre should definitely have this game on their radar. If you are interested in a new experience for yourself, Layers of Fear is a game you should checkout.
Similar Games Liked:
Silent Hill 2 (PS2)
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)