Layers of Fear
With the traditional survival horror game having seemingly been put to bed by the AAA industry in favour of more gun-ho experiences of late a gap has been left in the market place; one that has been filled by a spate of physiological horror titles, (or ‘atmospheric walking simulators’ as they’ve come to be labelled), from smaller development studios. Polish developer Bloober Team’s Layers of Fear is one such title that will get your palms sweaty with fear and your head spinning with its clever, shape-shifting environment.
In Layers of Fear you play the part of a well renowned painter as he attempts to complete his magnum opus, navigating your way through a Victorian-era mansion via a series of puzzle solving and exploration. What makes the game particularly interesting is in how the mansion shifts and moves, giving a visual sense of what it may possibly be like stepping into the mind of a madman.
Walking through a door only to find that the corridor which was there just moments ago has now been replaced with an entirely different location in said mansion will often leave you both disorientated and confused. In some instances simply moving from one location to the next will serve up something even more sinister and, on occasion, genuinely unnerving. Rooms and their contents will shift and move to disorientate you, walls and doorways will slip away to reveal a new route or location, paintings will seemingly melt away revealing a much darker insight into the mind of this quite mad artist and so forth.
The feeling of dread that Layers of Fear serves up is compounded further by the excellent musical score combined with creepy children’s laughter, footsteps in yet unexplored rooms directly above you, windows slamming closed of their own accord, doors rattling on their hinges and the frankly horrible, mournful sound of a weeping woman echoing down dark passageways.
It’s clear that Bloober Team have lifted some of their ideas from the excellent P.T and like P.T there are a handful of jump scares to be had along the way; namely the tortured soul of said weeping woman staring out at you from a crack in a doorway, or suddenly appearing behind you in one of the mansions many, foreboding, dimly lit corridors. The downside of this, however, is that a few hours into this short game, (Layers of Fear can be completed in around 5 hours tops), you will become accustomed to these ‘jump scares’ and by the time you’ve experienced the mangled face of your pursuer baring down upon you for the 4th or 5th time you’ll be more than prepared for it. Nevertheless it’s still pretty horrid, just not quite as scary as those first handful of times where you’ll almost shit a brick in terror.
The story is told through the discovery of quest items, notes, diary segments, newspaper clippings and the occasional insane doodle from our “artist”. On discovering a new piece of the puzzle you’ll be rewarded with some spoken narrative in the form of ‘echoes’ of events already past. Your job is to piece it altogether and find out what exactly transpired and what drove our man to insanity. What happened to our artist’s wife? What became of their daughter? Why do some areas of the house look as if they’ve been in a raging fire? What is this obsession with finding the perfect, but somewhat questionable, medium for his magnum opus? Each time you complete a series of events, unlocking more of the sinister tale as you go, you’ll be returned to the painters workshop whereupon more of his masterpiece will be revealed.
Layers of Fear is a quality horror title and a great showcase for Bloober Team’s talent as designers, of that there is no question. It’s a beautiful looking game, one that oozes atmosphere and that builds on tension with its shape-shifting geometry as you delve deeper into the dark recesses of an insane artist’s mind, delivering genuine scares along the way. Sadly it’s also a one trick pony and outside of picking up on a few puzzles you may have missed along the way on your first play through, once the story is done there is little reason to return. With that said, though, for the very handsome price of a few beers Layers of Fear is most certainly worth your time if you’re after an evening of scares and curious, if not overly difficult, puzzle solving.