Tom Powter reviews Layers of Fear…
Clichés are often seen as a hallmark of lazy writing, designed to be used for maximum effect, but can come across as a laughably familiar. However, if used effectively, clichés can work in the writer’s favour. Layers of Fear, developed by Bloober Team SA, is packed full of clichés and tropes of the horror genre, more often than not borrowing from other hallway horror games like P.T., and while not every scare hits its mark, Layers of Fear does manage to carve itself its own spot in a rapidly over-saturating market.
This is all stuff you’ve seen before – slamming doors, looping corridors, cryptic messages scrawled on the walls, creepy children and yes, even a ghostly woman who springs into view every now and then to the cue of a screeching crescendo. However, just because it’s all standard fare doesn’t mean it can’t still work. Layers of Fear creates an eerie atmosphere where I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder – even when I didn’t want to. Its world-building is perhaps Layers of Fear’s greatest strength, as I found myself intrigued by the events going on around me.
The game places you in the shoes of an artist who returns to his home to finish a painting. While in your rather expensive-looking mansion, it’s up to you to relive the horrors that occurred here and complete the masterpiece you’ve so long attempted to be done with, all the while succumbing to a madness that seems to cling to the walls. The story is mostly told through newspaper clippings and memories that you pick up as you progress through the building. Although the story-telling is somewhat heavy-handed and clunky, I found it engaging and it piqued my interest enough to force me round that next dark corner.
In terms of gameplay, Layers of Fear is simple enough – walk around the mansion solving relatively simple puzzles. It’s a walking simulator then, but really the gameplay isn’t what you’re here for. Layers of Fear creates an atmosphere that permeates your mind. It makes you question what lies behind every door, or around each corner. While the game lives and dies by its jump scares, its usage of reality-warping rooms and corridors is perhaps its most original aspect. The world-building within the game also places a large emphasis on the paintings around the mansion, which help to set the feeling of unease with their sinister depictions. The paintings are truly creepy and really help to evoke a feeling of dread.
In fact, these subtler attempts at creepiness are far more effective than the actual ‘scares’ that appear later on in the game, though I’ll try to spoil nothing here. You see, while Layers of Fear is an effective horror experience that made me cringe at the thought of opening a door, it’s held back by a number of things, first and foremost being that it’s a game. As you peel back the titular layers behind the game and start to move deeper into the mansion, you come to realise that it’s just a series of motions before you arrive at the next pre-determined jump scare. Certainly at the beginning of the game and even a couple of hours in the scares work well, but eventually the sequence of events ends up feeling a bit, well…predictable.
Layers of Fear is at its utmost best and oozes atmosphere when you’re simply walking around the sinister network of corridors in the mansion’s early game, with cleverly placed tricks of the eye lending themselves to jump scares (one in particular after you flick a light switch on really stands out), rather than the game’s stilted attempts at forcing scares down your throat. It’s not quite the grotesquely disturbing P.T. and it doesn’t live up to the breath-taking levels of suspense that Outlast offers, but Layers of Fear will do its best to prickle your hair and send a shiver down your spine. Do it properly – turn off the lights, wear headphones and open all doors at arm’s length – when it wants to, Layers of Fear can get under your skin.
+ Intriguing story compels you onward
+ Clever visual tricks make for the best scares
+ Can be incredibly atmospheric and tense
– Features just about every cliché in the book
– Becomes predictable towards the end
– The more in-your-face scares don’t always pay off
Total Score: 7/10
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