“I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.” – Vincent Van Gogh
Developer: Bloober Team
Released: Feb 2016
Price: £14.99 (PC) £15.99 – £18.39 (Console)
Layers of Fear is a first-person, psychedelic horror with point-and-click, walking-simulator style mechanics. It does include a few puzzles but is, for the most part, an atmospheric, narrative experience. The game’s protagonist is a troubled, alcoholic painter struggling to create his magnus opus whilst navigating his way through memories, delusions and an ever-changing Victorian mansion.
The route that is taken by the player, as well as behaviour during certain encounters and which collectables are kept will determine the ending of the game; there are three possible outcomes which are self-portrait, family, and endless loop. However, the most common (and the only one I achieved in two separate 6hr playthroughs) is the endless loop and it seems as though the player is required to be quite specific in their actions to achieve a conclusive ending.
Layers of Fear does a great job of building tension gradually. The writing and voice-acting are both done well, working in tandem with both the environment and the gameplay to drip feed information and build the narrative whilst maintaining curiosity and anticipation. The setting and experiences get increasingly surreal and sinister as the player progresses, the colour palette changes from sombre and muted to psychedelic and the surroundings become increasingly sinister.
The artwork is good but not as stand-out as I expected from an art-themed game, it also had that familiar Unity feel! There are multiple instances of repeated assets, from books to paintings and furniture, however, fortunately, this seemed reasonable given the ever-changing layout of the house and labyrinth style progression.
The OST is one of the strongest elements of the game, ranging from delicate and eerie piano playing to full-bodied, invasive music with atmospheric and distorted vocals. The game’s sound effects are implemented well to help create tension and accentuate the surrealism as well as adding oomph to some pretty successful jump scares.
A bit cheesy?
Despite the increasing insanity, the sinister tone and darker elements of the narrative and the gradual shift in atmosphere as the player progresses, the game lets itself down in the latter half by relying more heavily on cliché and familiar tropes. To begin with, the creepiness was more implied and subtle, increasing the impact of any scarier moments but as the overall environment becomes more crazy and intangible, so do the ‘scares’ making them feel cheap and cheesy. The sense of dread and level of immersion was broken for me by some of these moments, in particular, the one shown below which I found worryingly hilarious!
The end section of the game needs some refinement, I believe the later scares could have been much more impactful had they been delivered with more finesse. However, I really enjoyed Layers of Fear overall, the art-themed narrative made for an interesting take on the horror genre and it did a great job of creating a sinister and confusing environment, building tension and making me poop my pants.
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