Review: Layers of Fear
Have you ever walked into an art gallery and thought ‘my god, the horror’? Nah, me neither. But apparently the creators of Layers of Fear believe that there is a profound horror in artwork, and so their game revolves around the horror of art. Which they implement by having paintings fly off the wall every so often. Well, I guess anything’s scary if it flies straight at you.
Let’s backtrack. Layers of Fear is an indie ‘psychological horror’ in which you play an artist working on his Magnum Opus. Throughout the game, you wander through your Victorian manor, gathering items and moving the story along. While there are little puzzles here and there, Layers of Fear is predominantly a walking simulator. You move forward, you can read notes here and there, and you open a lot of drawers. Seriously, it got to the point where I felt like I was rummaging through someone’s house.
Layers of Fear is predominantly a walking simulator
Throughout this walking simulator, you receive evidence that the artist has become reclusive and paranoid through letters you find strewn about. This element was actually nice, as you got a chance to see him losing his marbles. But then, as the story unfolds, you kind of get a sense of what happened through all these little clues. And you have to keep going to see this Magnum Opus. The game kinda redeemed itself with the ending, which was a decent enough reveal, but the gameplay itself isn’t really that remarkable. You wander through the house opening doors and getting lost easily (the real horror is that they didn’t include a minimap), doors slam, things fly, jump scare, etc.
As for the game’s central theme that art is somehow linked with horror, that aspect kinda falls flat. Like, isn’t it scary that he’s become so consumed with his Magnum Opus? I mean, the story never really conveys that (and they show his ‘madness’ in some pretty hackneyed ways). They start with a quote from Dorian Gray, and you get that they’re going for like a gothic horror vibe. Like, they have a bunch of disturbing old-school paintings around. But it’s dim as shit and they’re in low-res, so you can’t even really get a good look at them. And it kinda tries to have it both ways, with a gothic horror theme and modern jump scares. It doesn’t really do either that well.
I mean overall, gothic horror was never really like ‘scary’ so much as it explored the supernatural and the macabre and like the dark urges of human beings. And gothic horror was actually pretty well written, which is something Layers of Fear doesn’t really manage. The problem with these walking simulators is that, once you take away all the actual videogame-y stuff, all the emphasis is on the story, and the game becomes a book that you read by pressing the W button for 3 hours in bursts.
Finally, Layers of Fear suffers from just kind of looking too…indie. Like, they have great sound effects and that helps with immersion, but the game just doesn’t look that nice; it somehow feels too much like an indie game in terms of its graphics, and that really holds it back. Like, they clearly worked on the visuals, but I just wasn’t sold; somehow they couldn’t get an aesthetic that really immersed me going. I mean, it’s also 2016 now, and even indie horror devs are putting out bigger-budget stuff that just looks and feels that much cooler.
For horror fans, there are so many other choices that will chill you to the bone, and for gothic horror fans, there’s always Picture of Dorian Gray. Seriously, go read that book.
Layers of Fear was reviewed using an Xbox One and PC downloadable code provided by the Bloober Team. The PC version was tested on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 via retail and digital release. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• Immersive audio
• Discovering the story through exploration
• A personal story with a nice ending
• Not enough sense of danger
• Limited interaction and exploration
• Some scares feel cliched