After borderline obsessively playing horror games for years, it comes to a sad point where you feel like you’ve seen it all. Sure, you get the occasional gem that stands out from all the rest but you can’t help but think “I’ve seen this before.” Horror, to me, is the genre that constantly goes back to its root stereotypes and cliches. “Oh look a group of horny teens have gone to a remote location for the weekend, what could possibly go wrong?” “No blonde girl, don’t run upstairs when the killer is chasing you!” “Whelp he said he’ll be right back, he’s going to die for sure.” “One of them was the killer all along. I really thought it would be that redneck gas station attendant who warned them off going to said isolated location.” “Aaaaand the main girl is the main survivor at the end. Didn’t see that coming.”
Admittedly I love classic horror tropes. But every now and then it’s hard to ignore that the genre needs a breath of fresh air, and I found that in the narrative of the recent PS4 release of Layers of Fear. My initial experience playing the game wasn’t stellar, I was forced to play on a crappy old laptop with broken headphones, which didn’t make for the best experience. Regardless I loved it. I wrote about how much I loved it. It even made it into my “top ten horror games I’m anticipating in 2016” list. Did I mention already that I loved it? Not as much as Outlast mind you, but still.
In the dark with a controller in my hand I finally got to experience Layers of Fear as I initially wanted to. Gripping and perverse, the game’s setting – a large manor belonging to a demented painter – was ever changing. It got to a point where I dreaded even turning around because I knew the game would be waiting for me to do so, and proceed to pull the rug out from under me and throw me into an entirely different room.
It was disorientating, but an interesting glimpse into the utter disconnect from reality the painter is suffering. I really can’t praise the soundtrack and the atmosphere of the game enough. The game had no zombies or real “monsters” of any kind, but I constantly felt under threat and terrified to even walk into a new room. Hastily written, often nasty messages could frequently be seen splashed across the walls.
I never felt safe, save for one room – the room with the protagonist’s magnum opus, his life’s masterpiece, which gradually gains form as you advance and collect grisly momentos that give you not-so-subtle clues as to how this ghoulish portrait came to be.The room itself is finely furnished like the rest of the house, but bright and haphazardly splashed with colour, a stark contrast to the rest of the game’s locations but no less foreboding.
Layers of Fear isn’t perfect, though the only real flaw I can think of is that it’s almost too scary to play alone, and that’s the furthest thing from a flaw a game of this genre could possibly have. Though the “twist” becomes apparent about halfway through the game, it doesn’t deter from the overall shock factor the developers were going for. Minor complaints would include the puzzles which, while innovative, can also be a bit of a pain to figure out, especially when you’re terrified and feeling a bit jumpy, and the pointlessness of being able to open every drawer and cupboard in the game while less than half of them actually contain something interesting or relevant to the plot. It was a comforting thing to do whilst afraid though, scouring everything clean and leaving no cabinet unopened while justifying your fear by disguising it as OCD.
A $30 price tag might seem a bit steep, especially if you’re a gamer who tends to put the price tag and length of a game in the same basket. The game was only a few hours long but I hadn’t been that exhilarated or curious about a story since Outlast. Well worth it if you’re a fan of the genre, and more so if you had played the early access and enjoyed it. The story is now fleshed out enough to be able to fully enjoy what Layers of Fear has to offer and I can’t recommend it enough.
Pros: Unique and memorable story with beautifully detailed graphics. Great use of Gothic Francisco Goya-esque art. Foreboding sound design. Intensely dark and atmospheric with tons of creepy moments and disturbing themes.
Cons: Puzzles can be difficult to accomplish under psychological tension of the game. Some object interaction is seemingly random and pointless. Somewhat short and linear.