We all know the feeling of being crept on, only to turn around see that nothing is there.
What about when you turn around and something actually is there?
Layers of Fear plays with that premise quite a bit, leading the player as they descend further into the madness of the artist wandering the ruins of his manor. The game ends up borrowing horror tropes and styles from various sources and somehow combines it into quite the unique and chilling experience.
In the beginning, you get shreds players of story and exposition via notes strewn about: something about a failing artist, a father being a jerk, a fire at a department store, etc. Therein lies the premise, though there doesn’t appear to be a purpose initially aside from exploration.
You’re in for some fun.
The manor is littered with notes depicting fevered drawings depicting mutated rats with notes detailing how the house is infected and they are everywhere. Layers of Fear is throwing the spices of Lovecraftian deliciousness with a nod to The Rats In The Walls here and I just love it. Paintings will warp, items will move, strange omens appear – but my favorite element is how the game implements scares when the player turns around. Many of them come from when a door is locked and you are forced to turn around and backtrack. Suddenly, you’re faced with something like the above and reality bending inwards on itself.
The manor moves between being in shambles to being an inter-dimensional Hell and then back to being a pleasant, posh living space. The further you go in, the more you will see it transform in a brilliant manner that reflects the state of the person you play as; he can’t really be called a protagonist. My main nitpick is really with the voice acting they chose for him. His story is compelling on many different sides, but the actor voicing him sounds just a bit too modern for the atmosphere and almost too emotionless for all that is occurring. Yes, there are peaks here and there, but I have to wonder: could some of the readings benefited from a voice actor who could really engross themselves with the sheer insanity or perhaps even a silent performance?
The sound design is top notch, so the game would not have suffered from a silent performance, necessarily. Each note about the rats had me convinced I was hearing scratching or squeaking, and that is unnerving every time, no matter how used you get to it.
Of course, the art design of the game is also wonderfully gothic. Many of us have seen that old, Victorian wallpaper, the dark woods extending into dim, dusty corridors, either in real life or in a game. The colors chosen and how they use neutral colors cast in varying lights brings to life that haunted manor feeling. It is very much so like playing a less modern version of P.T, and even manages to capture that same feeling of lost helplessness and intrinsic guilt quickly. The more the story unfolds, the more it becomes apparent why the player is trapped in their own version of Silent Hill, surrounded by horrific paintings, visions of spectral horrors and rats in the walls.
Control-wise, Layers of Fear feels like Amnesia: The Dark Descent. You have to click and move an object physically within the game instead of just having it open or work for you with one click. For those unfamiliar with Amnesia mechanics, this means you have to be more ingrained with the movements: clicking on a drawer or door and then sliding it in the direction you wish it to go. This may not be for everyone, but it adds more authenticity to many of the best scares in the game. A classic horror trope is not being able to find your keys or close a door in time or struggling with an object because you’re terrified – you have every reason to be paranoid here.
So, what is the monster? What is it that is watching you in the darkness? That is for you to figure out, and only a journey into Hell will answer it. If you want to have a unique experience and one of the best examples of something watching you, then Layers of Fear is completely worth it.
Ever get the feeling you're being watched?
A fascinating trip into madness via obsession, alcoholism, loss and art - Layers of Fear delivers one incredible experience and some genuine scares.