Fears Lost Among The Familiar – Layers of Fear Review (PC/PS4/Xbox One)
The idea of horror in video games has been twisted and reshaped so many times that it has lost its way. As video games progress as a means to tell a story, horror is constantly watered down into its cheapest and simplest form. Layers of Fear is the latest entry into the frankly over saturated ‘narrative’ horror genre.
Set during the Victorian-era, the story focuses on a painter trapped in his mansion, while pursuing his masterpiece. It’s the classic themes of tortured artists overcoming the various challenges that comes with creating art. Layers of Fear is of course a much dark take on the theme, summoning various influences from across horror media.
From the opening five minutes, to the closing act, Layers of Fear sets its tone immediately. There’s a foreboding atmosphere that fills each room with unease. Tension is slowly built, increasing in intensity with each step taken. You’ve felt this unease before in classic horror films and in the words of classic horror literature. Layers of Fear, for intents and purposes, is a love letter to classic horror.
Exploring the mansion progresses the plot, with each room playing host to its own ghoulish delights. Developer Blood Team have utilized audio in such a way that it becomes its own entity. The rustic sounds of Victorian architecture, the creeks of wooden flooring and doors. It’s all melded together to play tricks on player, evoking feelings of paranoia.
It’s near impossible to overlook the influence of P.T, with both games using the concept of repeating doors and rooms to play games with the player’s mind. The idea lends itself well to Layers of Fear, allowing the game to set up scares more effectively by giving players a false sense of security.
Modern horror is extremely visual, Layers of Fear doesn’t rely on what is clearly seen, instead it prefers to throw subtle glimpses…at least for a time.When combined with the devious audio, these brief unnerving glimpses result in some truly spine chilling moments.
There’s still a high amount of imagery used, even more so towards the end of the game. For all the good work the subtle scares do, the later stages of the game come off as slightly heavy handed. Adhering to horror tropes becomes a running issue, scares are heavily telegraphed taking away their impact. Unfortunately the cheap scare tactic known as the ‘jump scares’ rears its ugly head far too often.
Whether it’s being blasted with a sudden loud sound clip, or jumped by a rather tame humanoid creature, it feels out of place in the grand scheme of things. Layers of Fear goes from using tension and atmosphere, with subtle scares, to erupting into ‘BOO!’ towards the closing stages. This results in the game quickly derailing into a much more contrived haunted house fun fair amusement, cheapening the desired effects and themes.
In terms of story, Layers of Fear suggests a lot of mystery and intrigue, but is ultimately predicable. The core mechanics give far too many hints towards the ‘twist’, but that doesn’t mean the story is in anyway bad. Plot points aren’t always made entirely clear, with exploration required to uncover the whole story.
Layers of Fear is a fairly solid horror title. The initial few hours sees the game peek, mostly due to a much more subtle nature than the later half of the game. As soon as the jump scares start to pour in, the whole affair becomes less enjoyable. Perhaps a little more restrain in trying to force the horror would of produced a much more authentic experience.
Flashes of brilliance, marred by genre tropes. Layers of Fear is worth playing, as long as you can forgive some cheap scares and predictability.
*review based on PC version*