Layers of Fear is, quite truthfully, a damn scary game. Combining the brilliant, foreboding repetition of PT and the exploration and discovery of Gone Home, Bloober Team’s psychedelic horror is already a title that I can’t recommend enough, even in its early access state.
Layers of Fear opens up with a bite of monologue to establish the scene and set the tone, and following on from that you’re dropped into a 19th century mansion completely overflowing with mystery. The opening itself is incredibly minute and purposely ambiguous, but it does an excellent job of ushering you into the world of an artist who’s slowly losing his mind.
Throughout the current build’s 90-minute sequence, I found myself intrigued by this decrepit and haunted mansion. As I made my way around, investigating and examining everything, I slowly pieced together the bigger puzzle of what’s happened to this artist and his family.
Using exploration and investigation to tell a story is something that has been done well in other titles like Gone Home and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and it’s clear why the developers elected to go this route. While Layers of Fear is open in a sense, the game pushes you throughout the mansion in a way that allows you to piece together the puzzle and have an understanding of the story by the time the build finishes.
This wasn’t particularly the case in the aforementioned other titles, which were much more non-linear, but it’s really the only way the game’s story can work given that its scope isn’t as large. In saying that, a psychotic painter’s descent into madness is terrific subject matter, and the story of his life and work are intertwined with horror in fascinating fashion.
What’s presented is a genius way of telling a story that is indicative of how difficult life can be, while still providing a sense of progression and tension throughout. And it’s that feeling of progression and the sense of the unknown that really makes Layers of Fear a unique experience. Inevitably, this is where the game is at its best. Layers of Fear doesn’t hold back when the time comes to really indulge in what makes an effective horror experience. It deviates between jump scares and dread as rooms shift, objects change, and perspectives flip.
It’s evident that the developers have studied the effectiveness of building tension and dread in confined spaces – something so few horror films and video games manage to do well – and the core experience is much stronger for it.
The effectiveness of the scares sprawled throughout Layers of Fear are further complemented by the unnerving score and sound design, which continually push the experience to creepier and darker levels as you dive deeper into the game. Sound plays such an integral part in a good horror experience, and the game makes great use of that by implementing tones and piano parts that really drive the game’s narrative and focus to terrifying levels.
However, I’m worried about the game’s longevity, and whether that could hamper the scares. While the 90-minute sequence was a frighteningly effective look into the world Bloober Team has created, throughout the latter half I felt more focused on what was trying to scare me over what kind of narrative the game was trying to weave for me. While that’s both a positive and a negative, it’ll be interesting to see where the developers take the story to keep the focus on the narrative instead of just the scares.
Another problem that I encountered was frame stuttering for quite a good chunk of the game, and while it wasn’t necessarily game-breaking, it tended to become a bit of a nuisance when there was a lot happening on screen. Hopefully this is cleaned up for the game’s full release, but it was definitely something that continually occurred and jarred the game’s immersion.
Even so, Layers of Fear is shaping up to be like a great example of horror done right. This is a title horror fans should certainly check out, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Let’s not mess with the Ouija board, though.