I’m sure that when most people think of horror games they remember titles that harken to certain tried and true gaming conventions. Titles like Resident Evil, Silent Hill or The Evil Within, often feature a protagonist evading and or firing an arsenal of weapons into a terrifying antagonist. I want to make it clear upfront Layers of Fear takes many of these conventions and turns them upside down. There are no guns or ammo, NPC’s, teammates or maps to help you on your way.
There is certainly nothing wrong with the aforementioned titles because historically, those games have handled horror in interesting ways. With Layers of Fear, Bloober Team has created a game that handles horror in a more cerebral way. The game takes place in a Victorian-era mansion with you playing the role a painter who has returned to his home studio to finish his masterpiece. The game begins with a simple monologue that establishes your struggle to complete this painting and this time you must “Finish it”.
Layers of Fear takes place entirely in first person view and the story is told through you finding newspaper clippings, collectible items, trinkets and notes placed on tables or hidden away in drawers and cabinets. As you begin, the mansion seems harmless enough, albeit eerily quiet. Once you begin to explore the mansion you are left with a sense that something unimaginable has happened in it. You enter your studio. It holds a single covered canvas in the centre – the canvas for your masterpiece. What initially appears normal begins to melt away to expose the truly terrifying world the way that you see it. Are you a monster? What have you done? These are questions you will ask yourself as you begin to sense that you’re to blame for the world of darkness you find yourself in.
Much of the mansion feels like a labyrinth or maze, there to taunt you and make you feel like you are going insane. It’s a great set piece for illustrating mental illness that could represent what it may be like to be trapped inside your own head with only the memories of the person you once were, and the darkness you inflicted, to keep you company. The house is a tormentor, a constant reminder of a curse that plays with sound in very interesting ways. You may hear crying on the other side of the door coming from a bedroom, only to have it stop suddenly as you approach. Then, a piano behind you begins to play a familiar tune on its own. Items that you pick up may trigger a flashback or allow you to see apparitions of a horrible events.
Try to go back the way you came, and you’ll regret it! The room you came from has now completely changed. A moment ago it was neat and orderly, now it is dark and in complete disarray. You hear voices speaking to you. Then, the lights come on and, once again, the room is completely different. Entries and exits to and from rooms also change right before your eyes – you never go through the same door twice. These are just a few examples of how Layers of Fear tries to keep its players disoriented. Jump scares are there but it’s the ability to really make you feel uneasy about entering an area that is a credit to the game.
One down side to Layers of Fear was the way it utilized puzzles systems. Some of them were simple enough, light a section of candles in one area melting away a visage that uncovers a combination to a pad lock or chest, for example. However, for the most part, the puzzles like these didn’t feel overly necessary. One of the more interesting puzzles utilized telephones in a pretty clever way, I won’t detail it here for risk of spoilers but it served as a puzzle that actually felt more connected to the tone of the game and I wish there would have been a few more like this in the game. While controls are pretty simple and straightforward, I did find at times lining up a selected item to pick up would be a bit off the mark. This is nothing detrimental to the overall experience mind you I’ll just call it a bit of a nuisance.
I can imagine that some who play this game will immediately make comparisons to P.T., and to be honest that would be a fair comparison, considering the similarities, however Layers of Fear does a great job of establishing its own world. Its creative utilization of both classic and original art was used to create an odd, yet intriguing theme. There is something inherently creepy, dark and strangely beautiful about this game. It definitely redefines the term “monster” for its players.
This game does a great job of redefining what a “monster” really can be. “Monsters” can come in all shapes, sizes and forms. A “monster” can quite simply appear to be a normal artist on the outside but battling and looking to overcome the darkness he holds on the inside while trying to finish his masterpiece.
If I can make one suggestion before you begin to play Layers of Fear, turn down the lights, put on a pair of headphones and go for the ride. Trust me!
Layers of Fear is available now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Steam. This review was conducted on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.