Layers of Fear Xbox One Review
Publisher: Aspyr Media, Inc. Developer: Bloober Team Genre: Psychological Horror
Players: 1 Age Rating: 16+ Other console/handheld formats: PS4
If you want a game full of mind-trickery, then this is the game for you. The story follows a painter who wants to finish his masterpiece, and it is your mission to find 6 objects throughout 6 chapters to complete this final painting. The story is as generic as they come – about a man burdened by his family life who is trying to finish the aforementioned painting, driving him to insanity as his life starts to take its toll on his talent, his skills starting to fade and turning him into an aggressive, resentful monster towards his family. It is very predictable, though in Layers of Fear, it is not the story that is the main focus. It does a decent enough job to drive the game, though emphasis here has definitely been placed on trying to mess with your mind, and scares, lots of jumpscares.
Played in first person view, you are in a Victorian-style house, one that is empty and where things start to go bump in the night. You control the main character and explore different rooms of the house, finding notes, letters and the other usual items that can be found in such a game, the story unfolding as you move forwards. Layers of Fear is a very atmospheric game and does a good job of pulling you in with its slow and steady build-up. With 6 chapters, each one is more surreal than the last, leaving you wondering what on earth could happen next.
The star of the game are the visuals, the graphics wonderfully detailed and especially when the house begins morphing around you and how rooms keep changing as you enter through doors. Lots of doors. The game starts slow and steady, with minimalist happenings going on, you mostly wandering around the house, opening cupboards, bedside cabinets, wardrobes and oven doors, searching for those aforementioned notes and letters that give you more insight into the plot; the start very much feels like a walking simulator. At the start of the game is where I found the jumpscares to be the most effective, a simple piano slamming shut, a knife flying at you from nowhere, fruit tumbling out of a painting – simple yet unexpected moments that made me jump, and things certainly get a lot crazier from there.
Later in the game is where the visuals work their best, with you coming across a gramophone that, as you turn it, morphs the room around, the room changing from ordinary-looking to dark, twisted and angular, revealing a necessary item. The world becomes far more vast as the story moves onward, the house you are in becoming a maze of corridors, rooms and puzzles that you have to solve in order to progress.
What makes something scary to me, however, is that it must be relatable; in my everyday life I have to have had some experience with whatever is going on in the game. No, I don’t live in Victorian times and don’t live in a Victorian house therefore can’t relate to living in the era the game is set in, but just the fact it takes place in a regular home, with bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and living rooms with everyday items, that makes the game relatable enough – most of us are fortunate enough to live in a house and get creeped out if a stair creaks at night time, and that is why I found the first part of the game to be the scariest, because I could relate. However, I must admit I wasn’t too enamoured by the second half of the game and ending, where things really do enter nightmare/dreamland mode; yes, the visuals are impressive, though they never really quite reach their full crescendo and instead of feeling scared, all I felt was puzzled as to what the heck was going on.
Of course the game is a psychological horror and shows the main characters mind spiralling out of control, his obsession to finish his ‘magnum opus’ becoming all consuming, though at this point the game had lost me. What kept me playing is my curiosity about how it would all end and not because I was finding the scares, story and exploration enjoyable in these later sections. Towards the end I felt as though the experience had played out enough and what was happening completely broke the immersion and became more of a game where weird things was happening as opposed to things happening that drove the story along.
Also you soon find out that there’s no real threat to your character in the game; you can’t die. À la Silent Hills, the character is grabbed by the enemy, shaken up a bit, then dropped, only to pick himself up, dust himself off, and continue on. After this any fear you experience is greatly diminished and the game sorely needed some type of penalty for getting caught, such as having to start all over, just something that would make you want to avoid the enemy.
Layers of Fear also ticks all of the horror game cliches – a twitchy ghost, babies crying, looping corridors, puzzles, doors leading nowhere or disappearing, unstable main character, Ouija boards, phones ringing, being grabbed but not killed, eerie paintings, things doing random, creepy things; it’s definitely Silent Hills meets Amnesia – it’s not an original game to say the least and can be added to the library of games that take place in a house where things get very strange very quickly.
As mentioned there are a few puzzles in the game, though they aren’t the most clever puzzles that you will come across. One includes phoning a number, finding the ringing phone, answering, dialling a new number and then finding the next ringing phone and so fourth. As mentioned there is a Ouija board puzzle, something to do with a draughts boardgame and another puzzle that has you inputting a number into a lock after finding the combination… so not the most taxing of puzzles, but enough to break up the exploration.
Saying all that though, Layers of Fear kept my interest and I did complete the game, even if I did find the second half rather underwhelming. I think a lot of gamers that play these types of games, even though they aren’t entirely enthralled by the experience and get a feeling of déjà vu, there is still a certain sense of mystery and intrigue that manages to keep them coming back for more, even if it is just to question what on earth the developers were taking when they came up with such ideas. For the most part the game is very linear and has you following a set path, though another positive is that there are multiple endings for you to uncover depending on your actions during the game, so does offer some replayability, if you wish to play through a second time. However, Layers of Fear probably isn’t worth it’s current price tag of £15.99 though – if you want to wile away a few hours and are in the mood for a few scares on a rainy night, then definitely give this a try when it is on sale only.