There is a unique rush that a lot of us seem to demand on a constant basis. To attain that rush, some of us become adrenaline junkies and take to jumping out of planes or climbing the highest mountains. Others–less willing to part with our limbs and bones in the real world–search for this rush by playing competitive videogames in the comfort of the virtual world. For those not motivated by heroic achievements or leaderboard domination, they seek their excitement from fear; that sweet, bone-chilling tingle that runs down your spine, making every hair on your body stand on end.
In the old days, movies were considered the most interactive medium. Today we have videogames that immerse you into terrifying worlds where demons, monsters, and everything paranormal are out to scare the living heck out of you. Layers of Fear is one such game, but with such an over-saturated market of jump-scare videogames, how does it fair? Well, put on your crucifixes and turn on your pocket lamps, we are diving in head-first into this paranormal spook fest.
Layers of Fear will fill the void in every P.T lover’s soul. It is your basic first person, walking simulator: you move, you look around, and you interact with things on-screen. There are some puzzles but they are kept to a minimum, with the most complex deeds having you search for a missing key or solve a simple lock combination. Complicated game it is not. The lore of the game is revealed by reading scriptures and texts, and though old-school in their approach, they are adequate in allowing you to sink your teeth into the dark truth behind your journey.
Unlike most games of it’s genre, Layers of Fear does not rely on you finding specific pages or items in a certain allocated time before you get hunted and killed. Instead, it feels more like a haunted house simulator where you walk around, get spooked by some very effective jump scares, writing on walls, misleading clues, and an abundance of out of place items that are meant to mess with you. These elements all provide psychological disorder, and it works. I think the best way to describe the game is it’s basically Gone Home without the plot twist. Early on some clues will make you giggle, but the facts will slowly start to unravel and soon enough you will discover that something very wrong had happened.
Layers of Fear, though having spent a long time on Steam’s Early Access, has had a lot of time to iron its kinks and is nothing short of stunning visually, even when compared to AAA games. That said, don’t underestimate its performance just because it is categorized as an indie game. Even on decent gaming setups it will stutter and lag when played on higher resolutions, and the framerate on consoles takes a huge blow. Not perfect from a technical perspective, but the experience is not hindered as a result.
Layers of Fear is also not about making you sweat for your life by skills or deduction, further differentiating it from games in its genre. It is more about immersing you in a dark place with no clue of who you are, what you are, what you need to do or what had happened that lead you there. In fact, all you know is that you are a painter who need to finish a painting and bit by bit you will uncover the secret to your identity though letters and pictures scattered around the house. Being that this is a horror game, you should not be surprised when dementia starts knocking at your door and your whole fabric of reality crashing all around. Your painting must be finished by any means possible, and I mean any means.
The game constantly instills in you a sense of threat against all your better judgement. Though I was armed with the knowledge that I was in the comfort of my own home, playing the game on my own TV, very few games had me at the edge of my seat, toes curling every time a detail in this sad and twisted story is unraveled.
There may be no real challenge, no new mechanics introduced, and no memorable story but what Layer of Fear does offer is an immersive and engrossing experience that will reach down to your most primal and basic fears. When a game makes you feel like there is something sinister around the corner of your eye, you know it accomplished something that has proven to be rare these days.
All praise aside, the mood and experience that the game offers you are both its greatest achievement and its major downfall. With no actual challenge or threat to your progress, there is little for you to revisit it, and with an almost scripted path, Layers of Fear becomes a one-trick-pony that will probably not appeal to gamers looking to invest their time for longer than a few hours. Final disclaimer: If you are looking for a decent experience drenched in the tense and the macabre, then you need look no further. If, however, you like horror infused with action, or at the least an element of challenge, then either play this game with my notes in mind, and enjoy it for what it is, or skip it in its entirety, but don’t hate on it for what it never intended to offer.
Layers of Fear is available on PC (reviewed), PS4, and Xbox One. A review code was made available to us via Aspyr Media.