(Originally published on Gamer Professionals)
The horror genre as of late has been, as some would say, uninspired. They consist of the same stories and horror elements. There of course have been some games to rejuvenate the genre recently, but few have had quite the effect on it compared to Layers of Fear from the Bloober Team. Some would call it a ‘masterpiece of fear,’ while others would call it a mediocre game. Seeing this level of high praise for a horror game caught my attention, and it begs the question: is it really the masterpiece it is described to be?
Let’s delve into the critical factor of this game: how scary it is. Not to try and be a major cynic towards the game or anything, but it wasn’t particularly scary. I did everything I could to make it seem terrifying. I waited until dark, I turned off all the lights in the room I was playing, and I set the volume to almost max. Despite this, the game only managed to hold a very eerie atmosphere consistently across its duration. I made sure to look through every nook and cranny to get the best experience out of this game, and even though I may not have been outwardly scared, the experience left me rather unsettled. There were bloodied dolls all around some rooms, a grotesque-looking woman who would chase me about sometimes, and paintings would occasionally melt into things I could only call nightmarish. The elements of fear did not scare me, but the game did manage to creep me out through the entire ride. Another potential issue is the lack of any kind of lasting fright, at least personally. When I play a horror game, I thoroughly enjoy that feeling afterwards when you have trouble sleeping, because you can’t stop imagining that there’s a monster under your bed or in your closet. Layers of Fear didn’t quite manage to embed itself in my mind. Rather than fear, I felt something more like pity for the main character. Overall, it was a creepy experience, but those looking to have the wits scared out of you, this isn’t your game.
This game’s story was the most enjoyable part of the experience. Like most horror games, you can learn more from the story by reading various journal entries and slips of paper around the environment. Layers of Fear also utilizes this setup, but even if you don’t read the notes, you can get a good feel for the story. The story is about an amazing artist who finds himself a beautiful young bride, has a child with her, and settles down in a big mansion to live happily ever after. Shortly after, his life takes a turn for the worse. He becomes a drunk and later finds out that he is a schizophrenic. His wife somehow suffers major burns all across her body, and their child lives a poor example of a father figure. The father despises looking at his wife after the burning accident, and threatens doctors and their families because they can’t fix her, and will hurt anyone who stands in the way of his habits. He is portrayed more as a tragic antihero, though. While playing, your goal is to create a magnum opus with various items you find around the maze that is your home. If I explain much more than that I’d be getting into spoilers, but it turns out to be more than you bargained for. It’s just a sad story watching the protagonist delve into the horror that is his mind to create something beautiful. The story is certainly best witnessed first-hand, to allow for the best possible experience. Overall, I would recommend Layers of Fear to anyone just because of the story alone.
I don’t usually talk about controls in games, but I feel the need to discuss it for this game. Layers of Fear definitely takes an artsy approach to the horror genre, but they got a bit too fancy with their controls. It uses a system where you hold down the right trigger and then guide the movement with the right thumbstick. It sounds like an interesting system on paper, but in game it felt clunky and broken. When I would open and close doors, it seemed as if my player would move them slightly, stop, ever so slightly, stop, and then it would be wide open. Then later in the game, there’s a part where you use a telephone and even then they use the same broken control system. I would be ready to press a button with my right trigger, but then with that movement on the trigger I also moved my right thumbstick to a different button, making for a less than enjoyable time trying to use the telephone. Overall, these controls sometimes made me so focused on not throwing my controller against the wall that I occasionally forgot to focus on the wonderful story and creepy atmosphere that make the game so enjoyable.
Layers of Fear is an extremely interesting title for the horror genre, in that it plays with elements of fear in a manner reminiscent of the popular horror game, Amnesia. I held high hopes for the game to be what it was said to be, but it felt overrated. That’s not to say it was completely disappointing — far from it, in fact — but it wasn’t what I was told it would be. Honestly, if you played this on PC with a mouse, the experience would be much smoother. I can criticize the poor controls in this version of the game and the $20 price tag. Usually, I would defend this price tag for a game, but in this case, it felt unworthy of its actual cost. While it held a sinister atmosphere throughout, the story was great for a horror game, and was a fun, if brief, and occasionally jarring experience overall. In closing, Layers of Fear isn’t a ‘masterpiece’ for the horror genre, but it’s still quite a fun game to play at the end of the day.
You can buy Layers of Fear for $20 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC today.