Layers of Fear VR Review
Virtual Reality is both perfect for horror games and uniquely unsuited for the genre. You’re immediately immersed, with every stray noise and light flicker raising your heart rate. On the other hand, technical limitations can quickly pull you out of the simulation, reminding you that everything is going to be fine after all. Layers of Fear VR does its best to skirt these hurdles, stumbling on certain hard limits while easily spiking your adrenaline from the jump. While I swung from scared to annoyed quite regularly, the experience ultimately scratches that horror itch.
Like the original Layers of Fear, you play a painter piecing together your past crimes, art and mental instability rushing towards one another at top speeds. You can check out our review for that first game here. We’ve also diligently covered the subsequent releases. This VR version of the first story aims to recapture that old magic, which it succeeds at, sort of. You can’t go home again, but this game makes an admirable attempt. VR’s elevated sensory immersion is great for slowly rising tensions, but the usual technical hurdles make things like jump scares a weird experience at times.
They’re Right Behind You
I can’t speak to the Rift version of this game. Oculus quest versions of any game will be a little pared down, this being no exception, but the core elements remain intact. There were some strange moments made stranger by VR, however. A musical cue rings out, signalling something awful occurring. You slowly look around, either with the headset or the controls. As you turn to see behind you, an assemblage of books hover in the air, patiently awaiting your attention. Having successfully caught your eye, they go whizzing by your head. It’s still genuinely unsettling, though perhaps not in the way the developers intended. This happens with some regularity. You’re tense, but like you would be in a haunted house attraction in need of serious repair.
Horror games are built on atmosphere. It’s not enough to be a crumbling, filthy mansion. No, you’ve got to be exploring a maze of madness and liquid shadows, where every turn brings you closer to an unspeakable truth. This element of Layers of Fear comes through in spades. Rooms are coated in grime and misery. Smears of blood, paint, and viscera cover the floors. Every object looks ancient and ill-used. There are even musical stings that swell up whenever things are about to get worse. And make no mistake, things are always about to get worse.
You spend the game’s runtime solving puzzle rooms, slowly catching up to your own actions and memories. I won’t get into too many details regarding the narrative, though it is executed well. You’re given very little to work with, but it’s more than enough to piece together what happened. The story leans on some well-known horror tropes with just enough weight, leaving you to figure out almost every detail. A few things towards the end still hold some ummm, shock value, even if you’ve more or less gleaned the plot. Just try not to get too held up checking drawers, you know?
Keep Your Hands To Yourself
Layers of Fear works best when you put some distance between yourself and the rudimentary mechanics. The more time you spend checking through books, looking in drawers, and picking things up, the less the tension can build. I was eventually discouraged from too much exploring, since it mostly served little purpose. Things like crouching and grabbing objects take you right out of it. On the other hand, moving the camera and walking both accidentally elevate the horrific atmosphere. Both activities temporarily limit your vision, which is already impeded by the starving, slinking shadows. Things stay spooky, so long as you touch as little as possible.
This strikes at the heart of Layers of Fear VR. The more game-like activities you perform, the less you’re immersed in the narrative. Meanwhile, simple environmental touches and voice work do wonders for your heart rate. I was at my most unsettled when I treated the game like a pure walking simulator. Doors never open to the same room twice, shadows and sudden noises stalk your footsteps, and your deeds grow ever worse. If you haven’t played the original game, the VR version is a good entry point. That is, so long as you keep your interactive actions to a minimum. In spite of the usual technical barriers, Layers of Fear VR still manages to scare the crap out of you more often than not.
***An Oculus Quest game code was provided by the publisher***
- VR elevates immersion
- Story still sneaks up on you
- Lots of subtle jump scares
- VR controls still problematic
- Mechanics interfere with immersion
- Stop opening all those drawers