When P.T. hit in 2014 it got gamers buzzing. The horrific discoveries, the eerie atmosphere and the repetitive hallways – it all set up for a horrifying experience that gamers absolutely loved. Unfortunately the horror dream wasn’t to be, with Konami cancelling the game which P.T. was promoting, Silent Hills. Fans were devastated.
Enter Layers Of Fear – the game that might offer a light at the end of the horrifying, grotesque tunnel. Falling into the category of a ‘horror walking simulator’, Layers Of Fear offers an experience that tries to hook you in with an intriguing narrative whilst scaring the life out of you with terrifying gameplay. The question is does it succeed at offering a frightening piece of art or does it fall sort of being the horror masterpiece it strives to be?
Layers Of Fear casts you in the role of a troubled artist who has been going through a tough time due to a family tragedy. Though in a very dark place, he tries to work through the pain and his ‘artist’s block’ by re-discovering his passion for painting. This sends him on a journey through a twisted version of his home as he uncovers the gruesome tools required to create his ‘masterpiece’, all whilst re-visiting the twisted apparitions of his tormented past.
It’s quite difficult to expand on the story of Layers Of Fear, especially since it can be interpreted in so many different ways. You’ll constantly be discovering letters, newspaper cuttings, drawings or even household objects that hint at what exactly has gone on, though you’re only given subtle clues. It’s up to you to find out why your character is in such a bad state and what exactly has gone on in his past – both good and bad.
You’re left guessing as to what’s going on until the very end, with each of the three endings on offer only vaguely hinting at the mental state of the protagonist. I wasn’t left unsatisfied with the conclusion though – I did enough exploration and uncovered enough clues to have made what I think is a pretty accurate interpretation of what happened to this tragic family. It wasn’t pretty, but this is a horror game – you wouldn’t expect it to be.
Being a ‘horror walking simulator’, most of Layers Of Fear is spent walking through the hallways of your home as terrifying going-ons happens around you. Of course, this isn’t a ‘normal’ version of your home, but a twisted, maze-like version that offers something horrifying through every doorway.
These horrifying things come in many forms – you’ll have creepy dolls, ghostly figures, hordes of rats, haunting paintings… yes, this may sound familiar to horror fans, but Layers Of Fear isn’t afraid of using horror clichés in order to terrify the gamer. These things have been scaring us for years – they’re not going to stop now.
It doesn’t just depend on clichés to frighten though with sinister going-ons constantly afoot. The mansion changes around you – if you walk past a doorway you might want to look inside immediately, because there’s no guarantee it’ll still be there when you turn around! I loved the way Layers Of Fear kept changing the environment around you, and it even depends on it for some of the puzzles. If you’re not too sure where you to go next, don’t be afraid to head back through the door you came from – chances are it’ll lead you somewhere new.
One thing that Layers Of Fear must be commended for is its lack of a dependence on jump scares. Of course, that’s not to say they don’t appear – it wouldn’t be a horror game without the occasional jump scare. However, the game tries to frighten you with its atmosphere and what’s happening around you instead of making you jump with something appearing out of nowhere for no reason at all. I’m a big fan of psychological horror so the game’s focus on that primarily was only a good thing for me.
Of course, it’s easier to create a creepy atmosphere in the Victorian-like setting in which Layers Of Fear is set. There’s something more frightening about the early 20thcentury, with rooms lit by candlelight and a more haunting vibe to your surroundings. The fact that the game looks great does help though – developers Bloober Team have created an location that looks equally terrific as it does terrifying, the authenticity of the environment actually adding to the tension.
Whilst Layers Of Fear is a scary game, the lack of any fail states took some fear out of my playthrough. I never felt threatened, resulting in me never feeling frightened to explore each nook and cranny of my surroundings. There’s no reason to be afraid of what’s around the corner when you know it won’t be able to hurt you. That’s not to say I wasn’t scared at times though, especially with my insistence of playing at night and with headphones – it was just hard to get fully absorbed into the horror experience when I didn’t have a life to fear for.
The puzzles in the game were a little hit and miss too. Some puzzles were great, integrating clever design with the creepy surroundings. On the other hand, some puzzles simply felt like a chore to complete. One puzzle in particular sees you looking for the missing pieces of a game of draughts, the tiny pieces hidden away in a series of large, dark rooms. Whilst the developers have tried to engage the player with gameplay that requires a bit more thought, it instead left me feeling frustrated as I tried to look for what felt like a needle in a haystack.
Unfortunately, the console edition suffers from a horrifying frame rate at times. Whilst it never drops so low to be unplayable, there would often be a stutter in gameplay that was hard to ignore. I only got to play the Xbox One version, but I’m sure that higher spec PCs probably don’t suffer with the drop in frame rate – if you’re struggling to decide between a console or PC edition, it’s something worth taking note of.
Whilst it has its flaws, Layers Of Fear certainly excels with its soundtrack. The music of the game is fantastic, offering tunes that feel both melancholic and haunting. The sound design is great too, integrating a mixture of ‘bump in the night’ noises that make you feel uneasy with harrowing cries that’ll make you ready to turn the game off in fear. It certainly does a good job of providing a creepy atmosphere.
Layers Of Fear is very much like a ghost train – you’ll have a terrifying experience, but you don’t interact much and you always know that you’re safe throughout it. If you’re fine with that, I’d recommend you give it a try. Hell, if you’re a fan of horror in general you should buy it immediately – it’s one of the most atmospheric horror titles I’ve played in a long time. It’s certainly not perfect and has it’s flaws, but those looking for a horrifying experience that’ll last you a few hours should look no further than Layers Of Fear.
– Creepy narrative that is open for interpretation
– Great visuals and sound design
– The constantly changing environment keeps you on your toes
– It’s a horror experience that doesn’t depends solely on jump scares
– Console edition frame rate can be clunky
– Puzzles are a bit hit and miss
– Lack of fail states takes away fear factor
Developer: Bloober Team (www.blooberteam.com)
Publisher: Aspyr (www.aspyr.com)
Release Date: 15/02/2016 (Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux)
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed) Playstation 4, PC, Mac, Linux