Layers of Fear is a game that feels similar to many first person horror games that have become very popular over the last few years. The game clearly takes inspiration from games like Kojima’s P.T. and Outlast, with changing environments, creepy settings and use of jump scares. This time around you experience a journey through a creepy house in the mid-20th century owned by a painter who appears to have gone insane. The game was developed by Bloober Team for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. With the increase of first person, walking simulator style horror games coming out, does this title offer anything unique or interesting?
You take a tour of the unsettling house from a first-person perspective and play as an artist who is trying to finish his most important piece of work. I was immediately drawn into the world, as it has an interesting setting and unsettling tone. I’m not normally a fan of these types of games, but I played P.T. and was blown away by how much the game immersed me in that situation. Playing in first person makes you feel as though you are really experiencing every moment as you explore each and every part of that world. When you first stumble across the blank canvas for your painting it soon becomes clear the over the course of the narrative you will slowly be uncovering the piece you are going to create. You collect various items and interesting objects that help unravel what events transpired and what lies ahead. Layers of Fear is inspired by paintings from past centuries and the house you explore is very much based on décor and design of homes from the XIX century. These layouts and visual structures change and warp as you delve deeper into the story.
The game involves you slowly wandering through your home, which at first seems normal although very dark and gloomy, but it slowly transpires that reality is being warped and the environment around you is literally changing. The structure and layout of the house changes as you make your way through various sections. Even walking through a hallway or door and then turning can open up a completely new area or set of doors. I loved this about the game, as you are never quite sure what’s going to be around the corner or what your going to jump into. The house is full of warped mirrors, paintings that change form and creepy dolls. As the game progresses things become even more intense and disturbing, making you feel like you’re falling down some kind of twisted rabbit hole. I loved how the game felt like it was getting more intense and I felt as though things were starting to spin out of control as I made my way through the house. The studio is a reoccurring room that you visit once you have explored various parts of the house. This is also where the 'masterpiece' painting is kept. The painting can actually change depending on the actions you take during the game. You play as the artist, and it's unknown if he is good or bad. He is married and presumed to be the father of a child. As the game progresses it becomes clear that you are descending into madness.
Layers of Fear also seems to have drawn inspiration from games like Gone Home, as you pick up objects and notes scattered throughout the house, which give more depth and backstory about the protagonist and the events that have taken place. It’s important to note that there is no combat in this game and mainly involves you walking, finding pathways to the next area, pulling levers and opening doors. The slow pace of the game works really well and helps to elevate and exaggerate the more intense and scary moments. One of the key parts of the game is puzzle solving, which varies in difficulty. Considering the environment is ever shifting, I never felt like I didn’t know where to go and the game does a good job of guiding you through without even realising. The puzzles are often solved by exploring drawers and the world around you for clues, which I really enjoyed. There are often handwritten notes, interesting objects and even scrawled messages on the walls and doors.
Layers of Fear relies on jump scares to keep you on your toes, and almost feels like you’re wandering through a haunted house or walking through an abandoned ghost train. It also feels like many classic horror films with slamming doors, tricks with lighting and creepy dolls. One of the simplest yet unsettling ideas was with the paintings that change and reveal sinister and horrific depictions, and even items fallings out from the image itself. Although the jump scares may feel clichéd and familiar, they still managed to keep me engaged and genuinely entertained throughout.
I don’t want to spoil too much about the events that unfold, but I will say that there are imposing supernatural elements and beings that can feel extremely haunting. The game does take some trial and error and often sees you trying to find the right path to progress further into the game. An interesting feature is that if you don’t fully explore an area before leaving it don’t be surprised if the door slams behind you, meaning you cannot return to that area. I would highly suggest exploring thoroughly if you wish to learn more about the backstory. There are three different outcomes, which means that the game does have some reason to play through again and you may wish to do so as it only lasts around 4 hours if you are interacting with everything.
The controls are simple and easy to use, which I appreciate in this type of game. I like to feel fully immersed and involved in the world I’m experiencing and not having to think too much about the controls helps to keep me engaged. I did find the walking a bit slow and clumsy, and opening drawers and doors can feel a bit awkward. I played the game with a mouse and keyboard using the W,A,S,D keys. Clicking the left mouse button interacts with objects and the right puts objects down. You can also move slightly faster with the left shift key. You can also use a controller if you prefer.
The thing that impressed me the most about this game was the setting and decent graphics. The house genuinely feels realistic and often felt extremely unsettling. I tried running the game on max settings but the framerate would dip, so I simply turned down a couple of settings and it ran fine. The game is all about creating an immersive experience that makes you feel involved and has a fantastically rich and interesting environment to explore. The tone and atmosphere of the world is truly where the game shines and works best. The clever use of changing environments, good graphics and disturbing sound design help to create an impressive world. The game has no HUD or inventory menus which help to keep the overall appearance look slick and immersive. Its clear that the game has been influenced by other games like P.T. but that’s not a bad thing. The lighting plays a big part in the game, creating visual scares and tricks that will keep the adrenaline pumping. You can flip light switches and light candles, but don't get too comfortable as you never really feel in control of what is happening around you.
Overall I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Layers of Fear. It’s a haunting game that sees you exploring ever changing environments that make you feel as though you are spiralling into an increasingly disturbing world. The game uses familiar and clichéd jump scares, but it actually works well and genuinely keep my adrenaline pumping. The more you explore, read and interact with the world, the more you will learn about the characters and backstory. The design, tone and environmental storytelling is fantastic and I would therefore recommend this game if you like games like P.T. and other first-person, walking simulator style horror games.
PROS- Well designed environments that change throughout the game
- Fantastic sound design
- Interesting use of environmental storytelling
- Genuinely creepy and scary at times
- Good sense of pacing
CONS- Poor framerate on max settings
- Movement can feel awkward and clumsy
- Feels a bit clichéd at times
- OS: Windows 7
- Processor: Intel Core2 Quad Q8400
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 1GB / Radeon R7 250X 1GB
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 5 GB available space
- Additional Notes: Supported Gamepads: Microsoft Xbox 360 Games for Windows (Wired), Microsoft Xbox One Controller (Wired), Sony PS4 DualShock 4 controller (wired), Steam Controller