Layers of Fear throws paint at the canvas and calls it horror. But is it more than just a few jump scares?
But is it Art?
Horror games are like onions… or maybe that was ogres… Either way they need to hit you on multiple levels, or layers if you will. Let’s call it the layers of fear.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.
A good horror game needs to pull you into its world with its atmosphere and make you care about the characters and events that are happening on screen. The game needs to pull on that curiosity cord making you push forward even if you don’t want to, and discover what’s around that corner. So when the time comes to turn that next corner so they can scare the ever lovin’ pants off of you!
When a game hits on each of these notes it’s wonderful! Of course, not every horror game needs to deliver on each level. They can still be great in one aspect while lacking in another, but this is what I was looking for when I set out to find a good horror game to play next from my backlog. Layers of Fear has been sitting in my installed games list for a while now and that eerie cover kept mocking me every time I passed it by. I heard it was short and sweet, scary and all around a decent game. So, I booted it up to give it a try.
And one sweaty palmed evening of play later it was complete. But did Layers of Fear deliver? Was I able to peel back those dried paint layers and discover a hidden horror gem?? Or was it just a monochromatic slog?
The Abandoned Blank Canvas
Although the cover art is intriguing, and makes you wonder who the person in the picture is and why their freakin’ mouth is bleeding?! The design doesn’t really jump out at you saying “play me dang it!”. If anything it discouraged me for a long time. I mean, it drew me to play it eventually, but given enough time, you can coerce me to play just about anything.
The ingame graphics didn’t do much to add to the seduction either. They never once made me say “Wow, I’m super excited to be here!”. The environment consists of an old victorian mansion and that’s about it. The building itself is certainly impressive and well designed, (the architecture of that era has always fascinated me), but we’ve seen it before. As you make progress in the game and as you delve deeper into the main character’s apparently psychotic mind, the world around you becomes more and more distorted. Which is cool and intriguing and adds to the atmosphere of the game, but honestly it never really blew me away. You are faced with the typical creepy dolls, self propelled furniture and the occasional run in with your dead wife. Everything is just kind of there for the cheap jump scare. I will admit though, that the paint effects are probably the best part of Layers of Fear’s presentation. All expertly executed and obviously done by a very talented painter. They do a great job of reminding you that this game is about a deranged artist. My favorite part is watching your magnum opus evolve as you complete each section of the game. Going from a few blobs of paint, to a grotesque figure to a beautiful painting (if you play your cards right).
The sound design is fitting, but in some portions I found it pulled me out of the experience. In games like this I expect moody, melodramatic undertones, which are definitely there, but occasionally we get upbeat music box melodies which I found a little grating. It just made the sequence feel artificial. Regardless of the developers intent, it rubbed me the wrong way, especially when it bumped up against some of the more somber revelations found in either one of the trillion hand written notes strewn about or the flashbacks you observe. On top of that, the dialogue, as little as there is, is a bit hollow. And I’m not sure if the main character’s voice changed at some point, but I occasionally couldn’t tell if I was listening to him, a schizophrenic doppelganger or someone else entirely.
The Artist’s Palette
You begin Layers of Fear as a once prevalent artist who is searching to create his next masterpiece. In his quest for inspiration and redemption things take a sharp turn into WTF alley. Where we all know nobody comes back from, at least not as the person they went in as. You’re liable to get stabbed, or contract tetanus, or both.
I mean, inspiration can come from many different things, but apparently Mr. Painter himself draws his from rat genocide, incessant letter writing/reading and eventually body part acquisition. Now, combine that with our downward spiral into psychosis and I think we’re in for one hell of a party! But that’s hopeful thinking.
As you play the game you must explore your ever expanding, ever looping and ever deteriorating mansion to find the six pieces of inspiration that will help you complete your latest masterpiece. The game is divided up into six different scenarios with each item found at the end. In order to progress and find these items you’ll need to solve the occasional puzzle or wander around until you find the correct door. None of the puzzles were particularly difficult to solve, but the game can be a bit obtuse at times. Well, maybe it’s more along the lines of the writers liked to obscure the solution by shrouding the object you need in darkness! This wasn’t always the case, but during the times that it happened it made trying to progress a tad frustrating.
Here’s a secret hint for success from me to you: turn that gamma all the way up!
I wish I had more to say about Layers of Fear and I’m sure I’m leaving out some “important” minusha with regards to the story and the game in general, but that’s the problem! At no point did the game’s story grab me. At no point did I really care what was happening to the main character or how he viewed the world or what the consequences for his actions were. With all the plot points and character development hidden in notes scattered throughout the house it just felt like too much of a chore for a story that didn’t really interest me.
After three hours of play I was actually relieved that it was over, because if it were any longer I would have started to feel fit for a straight jacket! And not in a “I can totally relate to the protagonist” kinda way but more of a “Great Beard of Zeus if I have to read one more flippin’ letter I’m going to lose it!!!” sort of way. You may say, “You’re missing the point good sir!”, but in the end my response will always be I just don’t care enough to dig through the details to find it. Which is a bit disappointing because I had marginally high hopes for it. That and I was really in the mood for a good horror game! My verdict? Try it if it’s free, but pass otherwise. There are much scarier and much more finely crafted horror games out there to spend your time and money on.
Have you played Layers of Fear? What were your impressions? What are some of your favorite horror games?