Layers of Fear
October 13, 2015
Just to clarify, because this game is early access consider this a glamorous preview. I’ll still assign a score and bullet points but will likely roll out a supplemental update once the game has been fully developed. It’s unlikely that further development will screw up the game (unless they somehow nerf the scares or retroactively add in some horrible gameplay mechanics) so just assume whatever initial score I roll out will only get higher as development continues.
Layers of Fear isn’t so much a walking simulator as it is a roller coaster. There’s not a deep level of interactivity or mechanics but the well paced, constant thrills and scares ensure you wont lose interest. The (hinted at) story is immensely eerie and contains enough loose threads and facets that it should still remain interesting as development continues.
The game is heavily reminiscent of a lot of smartly made indie horror games of late. It’s extremely focused on delivering a singular, definitive experience. Imagine if a developer read a brilliant piece of copypasta and decided to turn it into a game with zero padding or fluff. That’s what layers of fear feels like.
The dreaded `baby room` is a horrific highlight.
It has less gameplay (at the moment) then its contemporaries such as Slenderman and Five nights at Freddy’s but it has a stunning identity all it’s own. The Victorian era reminds me of Amnesia: the dark descent. However, the environment in this game seems to be a nightmarish, twisted version of the protagonists home. A constantly transforming mansion littered with classical art and an abundance of rats. (don’t worry, there’s a reason for them. Not just thrown in for a cheap trope)
What little gameplay there is consists of using the mouse (or analog stick) to intimately interact with objects like doorhandles, candles, levers and the like. Clicking on a doorhandle and moving toward you will pull it open similarly to games like Penumbra and Amnesia. I like this approach, it does a better job of sucking the player in rather then a idle button press. Plus immersion is key for horror titles so best to draw the player into the environments as much as possible.
It’s used on plenty of occasions to great effect for jump scares and subversive spookings. Despite the dozens of doors you continually open, there’s always a new twist on it awaiting.
Regarding the lack of gameplay, that also means no game over state. Despite how much I stumbled into (seemingly) fatal encounters, they were always scripted to teleport me elsewhere to continue the story. But even once I’d realized I was (technically) invincible, the game didn’t fail to continue scaring me which is a testament to it’s design.
The sound design, as with most horror titles is absolutely sublime. The scares are accentuated perfectly and the voice acting does a perfectly serviceable job. It straddles a fine line between hammy and over-acting. It wont distract or irritate thankfully.
Lighting and pacing are used to an artful (no pun intended) degree and the visuals are absolutely sublime. It’s obviously not a triple A title in terms of technology but it does a brilliant job utilizing the Unity game engine. Kudos for Bloober team for squeezing so much fidelity out of it. (to be fair, I was playing on a pretty beefy gaming rig. Being early access it likely runs like muck on toasters)
Genius use of the paint motif pervades some of the games best moments.
Only real downsides are the aforementioned lack of gameplay and length. But the developers are likely designing by subtraction to keep the game as streamlined and tight as possible. And ten pound for an absolute flawless 3 hours of gaming is a deal I cant really argue against.
Going into it without any prior knowledge and playing at a leisurely pace took me about 3 hours to reach the (current) end point. Thankfully the puzzles in the game are gracious enough to go at a good speed and not outstay their welcome. I hope they continue to craft this careful pace later on in the game. Despite the overall structure being a tiered fetch quest, there’s zero backtracking.
We all know that sensation of playing a excellent game and it flying by in a flash and you left wanting for more. Layers of fear epitomized that for me.
I do wish I could go into specifics about the carefully crafted scenarios the game throws you into, or the well presented tale about a tortured artist struggling with his ego and losses in his life. It’s all suitably unsettling and morbidly fascinating and I cant wait for the rest of the title to be released. Don’t hesitate to pick it up if your a horror fan in need of as good yarn.
Especially as it’ll only be getting more expensive as it comes out of early access.