Game: Layers of Fear
Developer: Bloober Team
(Review code provided by publisher)
For those of you that are familiar with psychological horror games like PT and (to a certain extent) Outlast, you’ll be at home with what Layers of Fear has to offer from the get-go. It has a few of its own twists, but I’ll get onto that in a bit. Here, you take control of a deluded and reclusive painter living in a decaying mansion as he attempts to finish an art piece. Without going into spoiler territory, the story goes to some quite dark and creepy places. More importantly though, it does more than enough to keep you playing to the end through various techniques that tie into the gameplay. Again, more on that later.
One thing that will strike you about Layers of Fear immediately is just how beautiful it looks. It’s dripping with atmospheric and detail. From the small subtle lighting changes to details like rotten wood and decayed decor, Layers of Fear ticks all the visual boxes of what you want from a horror game. The audio is similarly impressive too, hitting all the right notes and primed to make you jump! Sadly, while the game looks (and sounds) the part, the frame rate is a bit hit and miss. As soon as you take control, the game stutters and struggles to land on a nice, stready frame rate. There’s also noticeable screen tearing. After a brief period, the game does smooth itself out, but the issue does make an unwelcome return towards the latter periods of the game. At one point I thought the game was going to freeze up. Thankfully, it’s not a frequent issue and doesn’t spoil the overarching experience.
At its core, Layers of Fear is a linear experience, but thanks to some clever design it takes that approach and adds a twist that will be familiar to anyone that’s played PT. By that I mean there’s plenty of on-the-fly style changes to the environment as you progress. It works really well, tying expertly into the gameplay and story, leaving you guessing what’s coming next. For example, you’ll enter a small room with two doors and nothing else, you’ll interact with an object, turn around and (like magic) the room has transformed into something completely. It’s brilliant and certainly played a few tricks with my slightly on edge mind.
Layers of Fear has mechanics similar to that of Gone Home where you interact with what’s placed in the environment. For example, you’ll come across plenty of notes that reveal more about the story and explain exactly why you’re in a gloomy and decaying mansion being terrified to your core. The game is very clever in the way it reveals exactly what’s going on, and as well as the standard type of find and progress mechanics, there’s are plenty of collectibles. It’s good then that the controls are both fluid and responsive. Well, for the most part. Occasionally, the control scheme does struggle due to the way some items are placed in strange positions. This can lead to the odd missed button prompt as you try to open a chest or drawer with R2 and the right stick. Still, it’s not a huge issue.
As well as the gameplay revolving around interacting with the environments, Layers of Fear throws a few simple but clever puzzles into the mix. None of these puzzles will melt your brain, but they also aren’t just a simple element of the gameplay attached for the hell of it. Each puzzle is easily passed by studying the environment around you. Plus, they’ll probably add a bit more longevity to the game for some people. You see, Layers of Fear isn’t a particularly long game and most will finish in around three to four hours. If you want to collect and see everything, you’re probably looking at a five hour playtime. The length of the game isn’t a negative though as these kind of experiences would become a little long-winded if you had to sit through a ten hour plus story in tense conditions. For what Layers of Fear delivers, the length of the game is fine.
On the other hand though, one of the biggest issues with the game is its pacing. The first half of Layers of Fear is a tense and stressful experience due to the way it builds up the jump scares and keeps you on your toes at all times. Just when you think it’s safe to walk down a well-lit corridor or to start playing a piano, you’ll nearly jump out of your seat. It’s brilliant implemented and continues for some time. In terms of tension and fear, it’s up their with the best in the genre.
The problem is, the second half of the campaign isn’t so well devised. While there are still moments of tension and fear, it’s more focused on the freaky and creepy happenings around you rather than making you jump the way the excellent first half of the game did. There were sections of the latter part of the game where I just didn’t feel scared to enter certain areas. It’s like the tension and fear from the first half went for a casual stroll and decided not to come back. If the developers kept going with momentum right up until the end, Layers of Fear could’ve been something extra special. That said, the pacing issues still don’t manage to ruin the overall experience as Layers of Fear can proudly stand tall as a fantastic psychological horror. One of the best in its genre in my humble opinion.
If you enjoy horror games with a tense, atmospheric setting and a freaky story, then you’ll love Layers of Fear. As my poor heart will attest to, it can also lay claim to some of the best jump scares I’ve experienced in the genre. Even with the niggles related to its pacing and frame rate, Layers of Fear is a fantastic experience that’s easy to recommend if you’re not averse to getting scared shitless now and again. Boo!