Layers of Fear Review – Light on Paint

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We spent some time in the dark and dreary world of Layers of Fear. The question now is, should you?

One of the main aspects of the horror genre is its ability to put the viewer or player into a situation where they feel like they could lose something, as it is that potential that induces a level of stress or fear of consequence that makes things personal. Sadly, Bloober Team’s latest title Layers of Fear seems to have completely missed the boat on what it takes to connect a player with the virtual world they are trying to make their way through.

Layers of Fear, while an interesting concept, fails to actually add any weight to its gameplay, since it lacks just about any form of consequence. While not all horror titles need to have a brooding monster, they do need to give the player a reason to mind their own steps. Irregardless of what happens in Layers of Fear the player cannot die, nor is there anything to really lose. This fundamental concept already voids anything it can throw at you, and makes the game on par with walking through a spooky wax museum. While you may not see very pleasant things, you don’t really have any repercussions for getting too close or wandering around.

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This is why I would have liked to see this pushed as more of a psychological thriller, as the game does have a great deal to do with the psyche and how perception grounds us in reality. But, ultimately Layers of Fear even flounders on this aspect as it incisively keeps trying to remind the player to be scared by using never ending jump scares and cliche tropes like melting paintings. If only it ever decided to personify any true emotional state, it could have been successful, but it never humanizes any of its protagonists. The only bits and pieces of who these characters are, is unfolded throughout the game, and even more detrimentally so, most of this takes place near the end.

To say much about the story and what it is actually about would potentially give the whole story away, not because it has some major twist, but because of its hollowed nature that it pins itself on. As it is more grotesque than heartbreaking or emotionally taxing. On a basic level, the story of Layers of Fear places the player in the shoes of a painter, who experiences a mental break and this sparks the turbulent world that sets the stage for Layers of Fear and possibly its most (read: only) interesting concept.

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Portraying a decaying mind is difficult in a video game, as the player itself is still capable of maintaining a logical thought process, so the challenge is breaking their perception on what they understand and can expect. Layers of Fear does this by continually shifting the environment off screen. Coming down an empty hall way to find a door locked at the end, only to turn around and see yourself at the top of a stairwell does throw off your senses and is perceptually striking. But, over time, as you learn that the world never takes off its kid gloves, you find yourself going through the motions of simply exploring one hellish moment to the next, negating any real weight to its design. There simply is nothing to be truly scared of.

This is also true of the game’s puzzles, as you come up to a three digit lock and simply look on the wall or painting near it to see three numbers clearly written, making the whole task a bit pointless. The only real challenging aspect of the game is trying to determine how to obtain its other endings, as you are never given any set of clear rules about interacting with the world and how it plays a role in which ending you will get. Some actions will have differing results, but knowing when you have the option isn’t clear and at best offers a mildly interesting change to how the game ends.

Some gamers may find some enjoyment in having things spook them with its creepy nature, or the random pop in of something freakish, but anyone old enough to find the content of a campfire story a bit dull will see the seams of this tale far long before it ends. This makes me feel like Layers of Fear is designed for gamers who are either too young, or sensitive to play horror games with real weight. Making this an odd title that seems more approachable to an audience that doesn’t fit its mature ESRB rating.

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