Horror, tragedy and some real psychedelic terrors await you in Layers of Fear, the latest in the ‘interactive narrative’ genre of video games. Your character is a suffering artist, a raging alcoholic and someone who is slowly losing their mind over his journey to create the ‘perfect’ art piece.Unfortunately there is very little I can say in this review without spoiling the story, the themes and the motives of characters, but as a short horror game it does a decent job in exploring mental illnesses and paranoia, at least on the artistic presentation. There’s a bit of lost potential in really diving deep into these themes, which are tough to tackle in games, let alone an experimental 4 hour horror experience. For the most part, Layers of Fear carries it’s short story on solid legs, and doesn’t run out of steam, wrapping up with a mostly satisfying ending.Layers of Fear looks great. Powered by the Unity engine, there is a lot of assets on show, and it’s especially impressive during the more twisted segments of the game. Disturbing artwork, confusing and mind bending architecture, it’s a gorgeous yet terrifying setting to explore, but it’s honestly quite a unique one. The basic house setting may set off some accusations of ripping off P.T (the playable teaser for what was meant to be Silent Hills), but things quickly go south and the final result is something that barely resembles what it started.It’s hard to describe the architecture of the artstyle of Layers of Fear. House of Leaves in a straightforward horror game can be the best way to describe it, especially with the themes of struggling artists and mental illnesses. It truly is a twisted game to explore, with some imagery stuck in my brain for many days to come.
But unfortunately, like most Unity games, the performance on the PS4 is borderline atrocious. Screen tearing, black screens and some truly horrendous framerate drops haunt this game more than the supernatural beings. It’s understandable that performance will suffer slightly during intense segments (especially in scenes where hundreds of objects are being rendered) but when the framerate drops to something representing a powerpoint presentation, it’s especially grating and severely breaks the immersion. I couldn’t tell you if the PC version fairs any better, but given the stellar track record of Unity on PC I could assume the PC version would be the superior and stable version of Layers of Fear to play. Given the necessity of a strong presentation in order to not break immersion, it’s advised to maybe wait for a patch to alleviate some of these issues before diving in if the PS4 is your choice of platform.There is very little real gameplay elements to Layers of Fear, playing much like games such as Gone Home, A Machine For Pigs or more recently, Firewatch. There’s a lot of clicking on objects, opening drawers and doors, exploring rooms and generally following a linear path. It’s not a very intensive game for the most parts, but it helps that the atmosphere is so thick and twisted, which helps keep the game interesting. While the bigger jump scares are all scripted, the game works best when it lets the player take a breather to truly absorb some of the crazy artwork and architecture.
Slowly creeping down hallways, around corners, scanning cupboards and drawers to find extra parts of the story and hoping there isn’t a scare behind the door, it may be scripted but the game does a good job in building atmosphere. I found my playthrough to be mostly cautious and while I didn’t find many (if any) of the jump scares effective, the game managed to keep me on my toes for it’s playthrough.While the game follows a mostly linear story, there are extra unlockables to find, such as drawings and figurines that tell more of the backstory, which is definitely fascinating enough to warrant collecting them. There’s little replay value to be had here outside of wanting to explore the setting artwork, which is both original and very, very creepy. The developers clearly hired very talented artists to create original artwork, and personally I hope some of this goes on sale for purchase, because it’s just so damn macabre and delightfully creepy.
The architecture of the game is also delightful, with some mind bending segments thrown in which may be the best parts of the game. One particular segment involved walking around and around a seemingly never-ending set of rooms, but with one particular thing changing in each room every time, until it truly got out of hand. Watching paintings turn from classical to twisted was also a highlight.
There’s some puzzles to solve, but nothing too troubling. Most consist of picking up items to trigger a script or looking at a particular part of the floor or ceiling to trigger more scripts. It’s clear the developers emphasized ‘looking’ as a gameplay feature due to the amount of work that went into the design. There’s just very little raw gameplay here to talk about, as Layers of Fear is another one in the genre of ‘interactive narrative’ games.There’s a lot to like about Layers of Fear. The artwork and design of the game is delightfully twisted, and the story is interesting and manages to keep hold for the duration of the playthrough. Unfortunately there’s very little replay value and a lot of technical issues that hold back this game from a day 1 purchase until some of them get fixed.
Strong if flawed story that explores original themes