Back when PT, the famed stealth-demo for Silent Hills, came out the internet was lit ablaze. When Silent Hills was cancelled, the internet was equally invigorated, but for all new reasons. PT had gotten everyone’s hopes up and that small taste of what never came to be inspired several other development teams to make their own similar games. Among those games was Layers of Fear, a first person horror game in which you play as an artist wondering around his ever changing, nightmarish home.
Layers of Fear plays more like Amnesia: The Dark Descent than it does PT. You can interact with a good deal of the objects that you find laying about, often times to little or no effect, but the option gives you a sense of immersion all the same. That said, unlike Amnesia, you cannot pick up every little thing you see.
Doors can be opened at whatever speed you’d like, which allows the brazen to run straight through and the cautious to peek ahead at any threats there might be. Though, doors also have the habit of slamming behind you, disappearing, and leading to somewhere new the second time you open them. The house you’re exploring is perpetually shifting whenever you turn around, and there’s a generally non-Euclidean vibe to things.
There isn’t any combat to be found here, and the few enemies you’ll encounter are pretty non-threatening. They tend to offer a jump scare, kill you once if you get too close, and disappear when you respawn. Once this is realized the tension present dissolves.
Puzzles are present, but they’re rare and almost always simplistic. You’ll find a combination lock, turn around, and see the numbers painted on the wall mere feet away. None of the puzzles in Layers of Fear should hold you up for more than five minutes. This was one of the most disappointing aspects of Layers of Fear, as there was a real opportunity to challenge players that the developers just didn’t take.
Each segment of the game ultimately boils down to a fairly linear search for a key item that the artist needs to finish a painting, and each item is accompanied by an audio segment of the protagonist recounting its significance to the plot. Similar audio segments play when less important items are found, and a majority of the plot is meant to be deciphered in this way. While there isn’t much room for exploration, opening side rooms and looking at less important items is still rewarded in this way. The narrative is the real draw here, after all, and players who find everything will be treated to a gruesome and tragic tale of madness and raw determination. Without that, Layers of Fear would just be another generic jump scare fest.
Layers of Fear is gorgeous, especially for an indie game. Not only are the textures and environment rendered beautifully, but the halls of the home you’re exploring are lined with countless classic paintings for you to feast your eyes on. Items that should look gruesome do their job well, with pieces of flesh and vials of blood coming off as relatively convincing for something put together by such a small studio.
Layers of Fear is a distinctly auditory game. The music that’s been crafted is generally comprised of eerie piano notes that bring a somber air to everything. The voice acting is good, but not quite great. There are some lines that could have been delivered more convincingly, but all in all it’s definitely better than your typical indie title in this regard. The sound effects you’ll hear throughout are pretty convincing, and there’s plenty of nuance present for those who listen closely.
The general plot can be understood with one run through, but there are plenty of collectibles sitting around for the completionists out there. There are also multiple endings present based upon what you focus on and how you deal with certain encounters during your playthrough. While these aspects of Layers of Fear might keep you coming back for a little while, any scare factor is gone on subsequent playthroughs. This does not stack well with the relatively short runtime of Layers of Fear. Even thorough players will likely be done with their first playthrough in under six hours, and later playthroughs will be much shorter.
All things considered, Layers of Fear is an interesting title. From a technical perspective it’s impressive, as the developers have managed to make the visuals and audio top-notch. In that regard it could easily be confused for a AAA horror title. The plot will likely be enough to keep people playing through to the end, but don’t expect much more than that. The lack of meaningful enemies, challenging puzzles, or actual exploration really hurt the overall impact, as does the endless return to the same bag of tricks. You can only be spooked by a disappearing door so many times before it merely elicits a sigh while you wait for the next door to load in.