This review is based off the PC version of the game.
Every artist knows the maddening feeling brought on by writer’s block. A person could easily be driven to insanity in search of true inspiration. Layers of Fear, capitalizes on this idea, bringing to light a truly creative idea that, sadly, falls victim to horror clichés and repetitive settings in its execution.
A game well framed
The best part about Layers of Fear is the first few minutes of the game. You are an artist dropped into an enormous Victorian styled house, candles illuminate almost everything, and there are numerous notes to be found that reveal the information about the character. Very little information is given, so the player must discover by finding notes written by the artist. The task is simply to figure out the secrets surrounding the disturbed main character. If the game should be commended on anything, it should be for its spectacular presentation.
The game does a great job of creating an uneasy atmosphere that really sets the tone for the remainder of the game. A slow reveal of grotesque paintings and smeared paint on the walls act as a constant allusion to the artist’s descent into madness. From this, it is clear that there was a close attention to detail regarding what should be placed in the environment surrounding the character. Another great example within the game is the constant appearance of alcohol, showing the instability of the artist.
Darkness is prevalent in every room, making some areas hardly visible. The almost non-existent lighting in certain areas makes each step a cautious one for fear of what may be lurking in the shadows. Besides the grim lighting, the music that plays as you stumble about is ominous and foreboding. It is that pervasive, aural unease that truly sets the mood. Layers of Fear does an incredible job of setting up its environment, even within the first ten minutes of gameplay.
Painting with wide strokes
Sadly, after about ten minutes into playing Layers of Fear, it becomes apparent that there is more lost potential than actualized potential. While the atmosphere is initially very well done, the game suffers from repetitive hallways and rooms which make for a boring gaming experience. It is very easy to become turned around simply because many of the rooms look exactly the same with no characteristics that distinguish them from each other. Even the paintings on the walls are repeated throughout the game, which is something that could easily be remedied.
The only exception to this is the occasional horror element resulting in rooms becoming warped or the walls oozing with black paint. This does add a surreal look to the game, giving it a unique look. These instances are few and far between though, and ultimately, they shape the environment very little on any large scale. Overall, it is tiring to see the same patterns and layout in every room after so much effort had been put into initially establishing the game’s environment.
Spooky at best
The scares in the game are almost non-existent for those that have played games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Silent Hill, or most other psychological horror game. The only reason to be afraid is the occasional jump scare. While the jump scares are by no means overdone, they really don’t add much to the game. Oftentimes, the jump scares serve to take the player out of the action and to break their immersion.
Layers of Fear relies more on the psychological element as opposed to the physical, but even that falls short. It seems that the developers felt such a lack of inspiration for their horror game, they made a main character who equally shared their lack of vision. There is no material here that is truly unique. What this game does, other games have done better.
The concept of a struggling artist battling against writers block has a wide range of possibilities, but sadly they fell far short of expectation. The gameplay adds no new mechanics to the genre, the atmosphere (while initially impressive) is generic, and there is no reason to be afraid of anything in the game. Outside of the interesting surreal approach, Layers of Fear is nothing new, and does not have enough material to warrant the widely positive reception it has accumulated.
+Beautiful graphics and music
+Attention to detail
-Scares are cliché
-Generic horror formula
All images from Layers of Fear