There is a special place in my heart for survival horror games. Going back the original PlayStation, I can remember getting together with friends and manning the controls while the others watched, helped with puzzles, and jumped off the couch when a scary moment occurred. Times have changed to be sure and horror games have changed. However, the developers at Bloober Team have created an atmospheric horror game where the survival element is not as prominent.
Layers of Fear places you in a large Victorian-era home where you will go from room to room in a never-ending loop. The goal of the game in to obtain certain objects that will allow the player to complete a painting that presents itself as a macabre portrait. Along the way, you will collect notes and other letters that will give you some insight on what has occurred in your characters past. What awaits you inside the house is a constant state of mind games as the house starts driving your character mad with its ever changing rooms, melting paintings, and ominous shadows that lurk in the distance.
The house is detailed as it is grand, and the developers should be recognized for their efforts with the design of the house and its never ending rooms. Well, I should say that it seems like there a lot of rooms, but in reality they are the same rooms that change at least twice. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that as the developers give you a great sense of misdirection as you will be in a bedroom, for example, and then when you go through the next door to find yourself with no way out except for the way you came in. When you return to what you think is the previous room, you will find that it has changed either for the better, or for its creepy worst.
There is a lot to look at in Layers of Fear as you can open the cabinets and drawers, and for all the looters that play, you will have a field day trying to obtain of the collectibles. The detail in each of the paintings you come across have been rendered in great detail regardless of their beauty or their mutilated counterparts. This game oozes dread in its details, both large and small. The graphics could have been a bit clearer in some areas to be sure, but it doesn’t take away from the experience too much.
As much detail that was put into the setting, the downfall of Layers of Fear is its linearity. There is no real challenge to the game; If you get stuck in an area, backtracking won’t be necessary too much with this horror game as the answer to the puzzles are written somewhere in the room, or just an item you find on the ground nearby.
Of course, that may be the general idea as the plot of Layers of Fear is not directly laid out for the player. The game will probably take you about five hours, if even that, to complete the campaign, and to gain any more knowledge of the actual plot, you will probably have to play through it again to find more hidden items.
Layers of Fear originally came out on the PC and there is plenty in the console port that reflect that. As much as I hate to use this term, as it applied more with adventure games, Layers of Fear is a very point and click game. The problem is that when you are faced with opening drawers, and other spaces in the game, it can be tricky to get your camera pointing in the right direction to trigger the ‘open’ button. There are many time I had to back away from a space and move around to find that sweet spot just to find there was nothing in the drawer sometimes.
If there is anything to take away from the game, it’s the story of a husband and wife that have drifted apart over time due to circumstances. Without going into too much spoiler territory, the protagonist is trying to recapture what he has lost with a painting you are trying complete. What stood out more is that there is no real hero in this game just as there doesn’t necessarily seem to be a real villain. There is fault with everyone involved, and while there isn’t a clear sign of what happened in the households past that is laid out in front of you, there is a constant state of regret. If Layers of Fear is about anything, it about regret and what we will do to recapture the past, and there may be no happy ending.
While Layers of Fear is great with its graphics and storytelling methods, but for a horror game it seemed too easy to get through due to its linearity as the survival part of the horror is nonexistent as there is never any repercussions. Once again, that may have been on purpose so we can enjoy the psychological story, but with the story being so vague anyways, a little more challenge would have done the game wonders. A lot of love and care went into this game, and there is a lot of talent at Bloober Team to be sure, and hopefully we see something great from them in the future.