The exterior of the “brooding” and “tortured artist” was just thought of as a cliché or even a facade, however, this definitely isn’t the case in Layers of Fear. Disturbing visions and haunting truths run rampant within the game, letting your imagination get the better of you. Developed by Bloober Team, Layers of Fear is a singleplayer, psychological horror experience that never eases up on the tension. Riddled with jump scares that are nicely wrapped up in one visually elegant package, Layers of Fear will surely have your adrenaline pumping non-stop.
Layers of Fear encourages you as the player to draw your own speculations about your surroundings as you scour every nook and cranny for clues. The narrative in the game is driven by bite-sized pieces of memories that are triggered from interacting with certain objects. You’ll quickly find out that your character is a somewhat maddened artist, incessantly plagued by his pursuit of completing the perfect masterpiece. You’ll also notice that your within the confines of your own home — an empty Victorian-era household, which looks decorous and dignified at first, but slowly begins to change and unravel at the seam. The house is filled to the brim with classical Chiaroscuro paintings which further amplifies its unnerving setting as you constantly feel as if you’re being watched.
Layers of Fear exudes atmosphere, especially how every room is usually lit in the most ominous of ways. You’re only ever permitted to see just enough of your surroundings as you’re left to wonder what could linger in the dark. You can never get too comfortable or lower your guard completely either in Layers of fear. If you do you may just find yourself suffering from an early onset heart attack. Jump scares are everywhere, but also executed creatively. As if in some sort of fevered nightmare envisioned by your character, your once lovely home turns into a labyrinth of horrors. The architecture will often take on a mind of its own, as doors disappear or rooms re-imagine themselves into impossible structures.
The gameplay within can often feel like a horror game on rails. There are very few instances where you feel as though you can thoroughly wander around. Instead, entering certain rooms that trigger the game forward will mean that you can’t backtrack as you’ll find the door you entered through is now locked. The overlying objective within Layers of Fear is simple, you’ll be collecting questionable objects to finally complete your characters “magnum opus”. You’ll rarely find yourself stuck within the game. When certain obstacles do prove tricky, they are usually easily solved by further exploration. While you’ll be introduced to your fair share of harrowing occurrences, there’s never really any consequences for meeting your demise within the game. After you blackout, the game resumes as if nothing happened.
Music and sound play a big part in Layers of Fear. The sound effects especially can often be chaotic and irritating, all further simulating the feeling of madness and despair. The chilling overtones of the game are achieved by its authentic Victorian-era setting that is largely reminiscent of Gothic fiction.
Layers of Fear is the virtual equivalent of a haunted house of horrors, but what carries this game past that is the narrative. Even when things become repetitive, especially towards the end of the game, what ultimately drives you is the need to piece together the final remnants of this woeful tale. Furthermore, what’s surprising is that this game features three different endings, making it a replayable affair. Layers of Fear is a highly commendable and blood-curdling experience that captures the pure meaning of insanity incredibly well.
Sunita Osborne is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2. You can find her on Twitter @SunitaOsborne