Last September, COGconnected’s own Cameron Farney got a chance to preview what was shaping up to be one of the most anticipated horror games in a long time, Layers of Fear. And as he told us then, the game did not disappoint. Now, the full game has dropped, and I have had the pleasure of taking a ride on the crazy train that is Layers of Fear. While it certainly isn’t perfect, it is indeed a scary, creepy thrill, and a game every horror fan will want to experience.
In Layers of Fear, you are a traveller of sorts, taking a walk through the psyche of a deranged artist. That psyche is represented by a gigantic, creepy house, and its labyrinthine layout of endless rooms and hallways becomes the unfolding story of the artist’s last, greatest work. Gameplay, much like the cancelled P.T., involves going through the house, room by room, finding keys and getting access to doors that open up more of the house – and more of the artist’s twisted story. You keep returning back to the studio in which his last masterwork sits, on an easel, but it changes as you uncover more of the details – just like the famous Picture of Dorian Grey from which the game quotes at the beginning. Layers of Fear is aptly titled; just like peeling away the layers of an onion, your journey through this insane mansion reveals more and more layers of the twisted tale – and the insane artist behind it all.
” Layers of Fear is aptly titled; just like peeling away the layers of an onion, your journey through this insane mansion reveals more and more layers of the twisted tale – and the insane artist behind it all.”
In order to progress from room to room, you will solve puzzles and get out of traps. Remember, this is no ordinary house – it is the puzzle-box creation of the insane artist’s mind. So, when you go through a door, it will slam behind you, or even disappear altogether. You will have to figure out how to open the next door and move on to the next room. Similar to P.T., from which it borrows in many aspects, Layers of Fear’s house also changes its layout dynamically to add confusion to your experience. Escaping a room and getting to move on might involve finding a key, figuring out a number sequence, or even something random like lighting a candle.
The puzzle-solving tries to be varied and interesting in Layers of Fear, but it did get to be more of a tedious road-block after a while. I mean, I am locked in a small room, and there are only a few items in the room with me – so I know that there are only so many things I can do to get out. Puzzle-solving in this game often boiled down to a routine of interacting with everything in the room until “stuff happened.” Then – presto! – the door opened and it was on to the next room. While I may have felt a bit claustrophobic in some of those small rooms, I didn’t ever worry about getting out of them. I just got frustrated sometimes, at how long it took to find the right object in the room to solve the puzzle.
But obviously, a major part of the experience of Layers of Fear was the spine-tingling dread I often felt by just being in those rooms, in that house. This is a game steeped in atmosphere, and that is definitely helped by the stunningly-gorgeous visuals. The near-photo-realism of the environments and objects in this game really helped me to immerse myself in this experience, which is crucial to a horror game in which you need to suspend your disbelief fully. I always felt that this was real haunted house that I was walking through, and every surface looked so believable, I felt I could literally reach out and feel it. Layers of Fear is about as close as you can get to being in a horror movie in person.
“The fear generated in this game comes from a sophisticated and perfectly-crafted combination of atmosphere, story and level-design…”
And I highly recommend that when you play it, you play it alone, in a dark room, with headphones on. Optionally, you can also choose to do what I did, and re-watch some classic old haunted-house movies, like The Changeling, The Haunting of Julia, and Burnt Offerings, beforehand to really get you in the mood. Like those classic old scary movies from the 70s and 80s, Layers of Fear delivers its horror in a slow-burning buildup of creepiness, rather than a gross-out gorefest. You explore this old, Victorian mansion room by room, sometimes in dim light, and often with the steady din of a driving rainstorm outside. Layers of Fear utilizes the effects of light and darkness masterfully, like the chiaroscuro in an Italian Renaissance masterpiece. While the visuals in this game are superb overall, I was particularly impressed by the restraint shown in the lighting; while many games of this genre would ruin the mood by bathing everything in a moonlight glow, Layers of Fear knows when to give you complete and utter blackness. As a result, I felt real, palpable moments of terror at times as I got up the nerve to step forward into the next room or hallway – without a flashlight to help me.
And let’s be perfectly clear, Layers of Fear is pants-soilingly scary at times. Whatever you were hoping for in a horror game – creepy dolls, strange noises that seem right behind you, disturbing paintings on the walls, straight-up in-your-face jump scares – it’s here in this game. Layers of Fear knows how to perfectly pace the fear, though, so mood is slowly built up before the obvious stuff is let loose. The fear generated in this game comes from a sophisticated and perfectly-crafted combination of atmosphere, story and level-design, to deliver a horror experience that is rare in the games I have played.
But interestingly, the game isn’t just about scares – there are more … well, layers to Layers of Fear than that (sorry). Sometimes it is more melancholy, due to the fact that you are always alone – well, almost always, but I won’t spoil it for you. At those times, it kind of reminded me of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, in the way that I was walking though it, by myself, picking up little pieces of someone else’s story. Other times, I was genuinely enamored with the house and its rooms. Some of them were beautifully furnished, and full of interesting things to look at. Believe it or not, there were times when I was thinking “I would like to live in this house.” Maybe I was starting to go crazy, like the artist himself. Later on, there were rooms that were more weird than scary – evoking a surrealist Dali painting. Furniture would float up into the air, and fly around. Or everything would be upside down, and I would look up to the ceiling to see the furniture and carpets. Maybe the walls melted or the lighting changed. Again, all of this made me feel confused, or curious – but not necessarily always afraid.
But emotional depth and nuance are not a bad thing – I liked the way Layers of Fear was more than just scares. I did feel that a tiny bit of the scare-factor was lost, however, due to a couple of issues. For example, the driving rainstorm going on outside of the house was, at times, so loud that it took away from the atmosphere inside. Just as the developers knew when to employ total darkness to great effect visually, a less-is-more philosophy in the sound department would have helped the game. Eerie silence, broken occasionally by faint whispers or the sound of a slamming door in another room, would have been far more bone-chilling than the cliché thunder and lightning, or piano music.
“If you are a fan of scary games, and you are still sad about P.T., this game is a must buy…”
There were also some scares that were lost because of the limited field of view the camera affords you. I missed a few of the game’s jump-scares when I was too busy looking down at a table or over at a window. Oops, they went to all that trouble to throw that cleaver at me, and I wasn’t even looking! Well, I suppose if you ever get squeamish in Layers of Fear, you could just look down – you will be spared many of the scary images. But not all – things do get genuinely terrifying at a certain point in Layers of Fear, but I won’t say any more than that. The bottom line is, this game is very scary overall, but could have been even more terrifying with a few tweaks.
To sum up, Layers of Fear is a fun, thrilling – and yes, very scary ride. Its amazing visuals and fascinatingly-creepy environments will have you hesitating at times, jumping at others, but always pushing onwards to uncover the story of its insane protagonist. While the game has more emotional sides than just fear, and sometimes the scares miss the mark a little bit, there is more than enough terror and excitement here to make Layers of Fear one of the best horror games to come out in a long time. If you are a fan of scary games, and you are still sad about P.T., this game is a must buy – so turn out the lights, put on a few extra layers of underwear, and give Layers of Fear a try.
*** PC code provided by the publisher ***
- Awesome visuals
- Interesting, multilayered story
- Genuinely scary and creepy at times
- Sounds can overwhelm atmosphere
- Puzzle solving can be tedious
- Limited vision ruins a few scares