Layers of Fear – Review
Follow Genre: psychedelic horror adventure
Developer: Bloober Team SA
Publisher: Asphyr
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Tested on: PC

Layers of Fear – Review

Site Score
9.5
Good: Great atmosphere, story, soundtrack and graphics
Bad: Some annoying game mechanics, too easy?
User Score
10.0
(1 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

2016 looks to be another promising year for horror, what with titles like Outlast 2 and We Happy Few on the way. So where does Layers of Fear fit into the equation? Rather well it seems. A game that keeps your pulse racing from beginning to end, it lives every bit up to Bloober Team’s description of psychedelic horror-  but people with pediophobia had better beware as the amount of dolls could possibly scare you for years to come.

Layers of Fear logo

Story

You’ve painted countless canvases, but they never felt good enough. No, this time, this time is when you will astound everyone. You will create your Magnum Opus, the crowning glory of your career, and you will use any means to create it- because it needs to be perfect, right? You take another drink, just like every night…but tonight, it’s different. Tonight, you hear the distant sound of a piano, and for a moment your mind wanders. Is it her, your wife? No, she’s gone. It can’t be her. But no more distractions! You must finish this painting. Must find the right tools…

The story in Layers of Fear is a nice change from a lot of horror titles in that it explores the mind of a very mentally ill man rather than him being part of a world of supernatural terrors that want to kill him. The demeaning comments written all over the walls, and in the notes that he finds, paint a picture of an insecure person who feels emasculated and useless because he can’t show everyone that he is truly a master painter. We also get little snippets into his past and how he feels about it, what with his marriage photograph having both his and his wife’s faces scratched out, and difficult memories attached to certain items. However, if you want to construct a complete picture, the game does not hand it to you. Instead, you must find all the snippets and piece together what happened, which for people who want to charge through the story might prove to be frustrating.

Layers of Fear 1

Graphics

There is one word that comes to mind when trying to describe the graphics in Layers of Fear, and that is amazing. Well, the house itself is at least. There is a stunning amount of detail paid to every single object and environment, and although you can’t pick them up and throw them all around (like we desperately wanted to, because…well, it’s fun), they are wonderfully realistic. The best part of having objects that you can interact with is that you can zoom in on them and see the workmanship that has gone into making everything look stunning.

Once the madness inside the house starts, everything gets rather gross and frightening- although that doesn’t mean that this is any less detailed! The addition of the viscous black sludge, blood and various other creepy things really create a terrifying atmosphere. Eating whilst playing is definitely not advised, lest you lose your lunch- unless you have a strong stomach, or simply don’t care.

The psychedelic sequences are the parts however that really make Layers of Fear. It is probably the closest thing to having some sort of hallucinogenic drug trip without actually consuming any illegal substances, as bright colours and skewered visions flash across the screen to leave the player feeling dazed and confused. They can also be hints that you’re heading in the right direction, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled.

Layers of Fear 2

Sound

Another element that Layers of Fear delivers well on is its soundtrack. Hauntingly beautiful, the main theme played when you start up the game almost makes you want to stay and listen forever. Just like most of the music for the rest of the game, it’s made out of a combination of vocals, piano and other ambient instruments that indicate the loneliness and gradual descent into insanity of the main character. Music like this doesn’t have to be a complicated melody; the minimalist themes do all the talking, and really guide the player deeper into the realms of madness. The soundtrack is certainly an essential element of the story, and the game itself would lose a lot of atmosphere if it wasn’t for the Silent Hill-esque elements.

Layers of Fear 4

Sound effects also play a part in keeping the player on edge. The constant sound of your character’s footsteps, glass crunching under foot, rats screeching as they run out of your sightline all make you feel as if you are there in the moment, experiencing the horrors unfolding just like the main character. The added elements of a music box and the sound of baby cries, especially if you dislike anything to do with children in a horror game with a passion (like we do), are also excellent and leave you feeling like you want to simultaneously run away as fast as you can but also continue forth into the madness within.

There are also some voiced cutscenes relating to certain objects that hold key memories for the main character, although they are not frequent. It is clear that the game wants you to maintain your level of uneasiness and continue playing rather than listening to a long spiel about the past. They do give you some insight into the story, however, so finding these objects is a good idea.

Layers of Fear 3

Gameplay

Layers of Fear is a psychedelic click and drag adventure horror game, where the only controls essentially are the usual WASD keys for movement, Left mouse button to investigate objects (which can be investigated further by pressing the Spacebar) and drag open doors, Right mouse button to zoom, moving the mouse for the camera, and finally holding Shift to sprint. Starting off in the entrance hall, you make your way around the house to find little hints about where to go, and also find documents that indicate elements of your past- although these are not necessarily always clear. One minor criticism is that the door opening mechanic can be quite clumsy. There were many times where we would go to open a door, only for it to either get stuck because we hadn’t opened it wide enough, or swing closed again. With this, the only answer is to be vigilant and not to let it ruin your immersion too much.

Layers of Fear 5

For those who love their survival horror games, this title is only slightly kinder in that you cannot die at any point during the game. Whilst this does make it seem like a walking simulator with some super creepy elements, it’s still plenty scary enough to keep you entertained for its relatively short length of gameplay compared to some of the big horror titles (so don’t worry, it’s nowhere near as cheap as FNAF). Another area where it can get a little annoying is the sometimes obvious hinting about where to go and what to do, so for those players that really like to muddle their way through unaided, it might be frustrating. The puzzles aren’t particularly hard either, but considering the main focus is supposed to be the story and the messed-up visions, this does not take away from the fear factor (although the repeated attack by the same ghost-clown-lady-thing might, even for the most jumpiest of players). Just remember to look around and observe everything to get the full experience, as you can miss things by simply turning around at the wrong moment. And also, keep your eyes open for a perhaps unsubtle nod to the P.T. demo for Silent Hills, a game that will sadly never be released. We enjoyed the reference, at least!

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Conclusion

Considering the amount of competition in the horror genre, Layers of Fear definitely deserves a place in the hall of fame. The atmosphere created by the graphics and the sound definitely keep you continually worried that something is going to come and get you. With that added to a story that made our flesh crawl, and gameplay that essentially allows you to live through the nightmare of a crazed artist, it’s a well-made game that you’ll want to go back to again to try and find all of the elements to piece together why everything has ended up this way. The hinting can get irritating, as can the sometimes predictable jump scares, but they can’t take away everything from the craftsmanship that has gone into this game. One word of advice, though: try not to have too many battles with doors, they really are the unbeatable enemy.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Layers of Fear - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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