Review: Layers of Fear
Upon starting Layers of Fear I thought the head-bobbing was a little bit off. Head-bobbing in first person games isn’t new, but in Layers of Fear it seemed to lean a bit too far to one side in a way that felt off. This bugged me to no end until I found some documents that indicated my character had a prosthetic leg, a walking cane, and some notes around the house that offered some thoughts on the prosthetic. Maybe it seems like a really small thing, but this extra effort to simulate that style of walk left me really impressed. The entire game is filled with this kind of attention to detail. The dressers, desks, and cabinets aren’t just set-dressing. They’re real objects in the house that can be interacted with and often times contain clues as to what really happened. Every little detail goes a long way in presenting an incredibly spooky house with an equally dark past.
Layers of Fear takes you on a linear narrative-driven ride through the mind of an insane painter. Throughout the game the structure of the house will change, objects in the room will move, and doors will begin to vanish. The game consistently plays with your expectations and turns them upside down. PT comes off as a clear inspiration in this one. There’s also plenty of horror tropes at play that you’ve probably seen before. That’s okay. Layers of Fear uses familiar tropes in intelligent ways and importantly never relies too heavily on jump scares. There’s a slow build up from beginning to end in which each scare is earned and in some cases hinted at over time. There are dozens upon dozens of incredible moments throughout the game that had me both scared and impressed. In particular I’ll never get tired of the entire layout of a room changing behind my back. It’s a great effect and one that throws your perception of the world out the window.
Uncovering the painter’s past involves reading newspaper clippings, journal entries, and letters written to your character. It’s probably not going to take too long to piece together what happened in this house, but the way the details unfold throughout the game is really well done. I really like the story, the way details in the house reflect what happened in the past, and the way it all ends. The ending will likely be divisive, but for me it felt like a smart and natural conclusion to this story.
Layers of Fear, like the recently released Firewatch, runs on Unity and with that comes some technical issues. I noticed a bit of screen tearing and some minor stuttering which became a little more pronounced towards the end. Unlike Firewatch the technical issues aren’t nearly as bad and never took me out of the experience. Outside of the beginning of the game I found myself so absorbed in the house that I rarely noticed it.
I remember hearing a lot of praise for Layers of Fear when it hit Early Access last year. I’m always interested in new horror projects, but at the same time my familiarity with Bloober Team left me skeptical. I’m so happy to say that they pulled it off. Bloober Team has made one of my favorite horror games since PT. Like that game it not only left me scared, but it also left me with a huge grin. We don’t get psychological horror games like this very often and it’s far less common to get one that does it right. Layers of Fear is an incredible ride through an ever-changing house that demonstrates an understanding of the horror genre. It succeeds in creating a genuinely unsettling house that never relies too hard on cheap scares. Instead it’s filled with moments that’ll stick with me for a long time.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Great atmosphere and attention to detail
- A house that's constantly changing
- Doesn't rely on cheap scares
- Sound design
- So many incredible moments that you should see for yourself
What I Dislike:
- Some minor technical issues