Title: Layers of Fear
Publisher: Aspyr Team
Developer: Bloober Team
Release date: 2/16/2016
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Linux, Mac OS
Playtime: 3 hours
Horror games are often defined by how well they can keep a player in a state of terror and how memorable the scares are. Some accomplish this by creating terrifying creatures that you encounter, or by tense, suspenseful situations mixed with jump scares. Layers of Fear fails to leave any impressionable moments, or even find the right level of suspense to keep players in a state of fear. Layers of Fear is one of the first multi-platform releases for developer Bloober team and it leaves a lot to be desired.
You start as a painter trying to create his masterpiece, and along the way, he appears to lose his grip on reality as you the player uncovers the events that affected him and his family. As you move through the hallways and rooms of his large, old home, collecting the items to finish your painting, the game displays its only bright spot: its ability to mess with your perception, as every time you enter a new room, it will inevitably change. Everything is constantly changing, or moving, the moment your back is turned to it. Rooms expand, doors disappear, furniture rearranges itself, and lights are always flickering. At first, this is rather deft and produces a couple good scares, but it quickly loses its effect.
Having a game throw jumpscare after jumpscare at you can become boring rather quickly. Paintings are always falling or melting, items are being thrown across the room constantly and you quickly pick up a rhythm on when to expect the next scare, with no buildup to any of them. While there are a few creepy scenes, nothing really stands out, and they just kind of blur together after awhile. The story that is uncovered as you progress is uninteresting and feels unconnected to the events of the game, since it lacks any real depth and is too vague to get any real attachment to the painter, who goes nameless throughout the game. The only other being that is in the game is, what appears to be, an aberration that occasionally is heard or seen walking across your path, but there are few actual encounters with it and it generates very little fear. Graphically, the game looks nice, but there isn’t much to look at, as you often walking through the same rooms or corridors just in different states of disrepair. As I was playing, I was reminded of P.T. The atmosphere and rooms the player searches are almost identical. However Layers of Fear doesn’t manage to recreate the same level of horror.
Gameplay is as simple as it gets. You move through the areas and occasionally hold a button to open a door or cabinet. You can collect scraps of paper to learn about the bad things that happened to the painter and his family, and some pictures to try to get some visualization on it, but with the story being so vague, there is no real need or want to do so. There are a few puzzles to do as you progress, but nothing that’s too mind boggling, or even notable, and most time is spent walking around a room trying to trigger whatever scare is in it and to wait for the path forward to reveal itself. There is some interest in seeing your painting finished as you progress, but other than this, there is no reason to come back to this game, since there is nothing else to do once the story is finished, other than collecting notes.
Layers of Fear does very little to actually layer the fear, and comes off more disappointing than anything. Towards the end, I was waiting for it to be over, and was more surprised than scared when anything creepy actually happened. Layers of Fear does produce some creative scenes visually, but it fails to hold any effect on the player. While at first, it appears to be a P.T. successor, it does not achieve the same level of fear even if it shares some similarity to it. The design and playstyle are almost identical to P.T. but it fails to recreate any of the suspense or paranoia despite being a full game rather than a trailer. The mounting dread of continually walking through the same corridor in P.T. is nowhere to be found in Layers of Fear even though you are walking through the same areas quite a lot.