As you take control of an artist with psychiatric issues, trying to complete his final masterpiece amidst confusion and a broken home, Layers of fear introduces you to the mental struggles of a fractured mind.
You begin returning to your house, with the intention of finally overcoming an artist’s block to produce your final painting. In short you have a wander around for a little then paint a bit before another peruse around your dwelling between further efforts.
Being a horror game, there’s a little more to it than that, and it’s the core gameplay mechanics that make Layers of fear it’s own worst enemy and a masterpiece in equal measures.
While navigating through the house, you’ll control movement with the analogue sticks, and use a trigger as your main context sensitive action button. Holding on doors, drawers and cupboards to then use the right stick to swing them open, soon becomes second nature.
You’ll quickly get used to pilfering through your vast collection of cupboards to find items and sketches which will trigger memories and thoughts which help to narrate the background of your story and during this time you’ll initially find a few basic scares early on which left me somewhat underwhelmed for the first half of the game.
While gameplay allows free movement to an extent, it’s a pretty linear experience with doors locks and corridors blocks ensuring you are travelling a defined route, this is then thrown all over the place as the rooms and surroundings literally change with every turn, You might walk into a room with a locked door opposite, then when you turn round there’s suddenly 2 more doors on either side, with the only exit being the door you entered through, and then as you move into the next room you see there’s a completely different area ahead.
After the first hour, this twisting of reality soon gets you perched on the edge of your seat, and then things start to get even more crazy.
Objects flying across the room, an impressive effect of stasis which see’s chairs, tables and even crayons suspended and able to be pushed around the room with zero effect from gravity. Visual effects continue through distorted paintings, and hand drawn sketches across the walls.
With a multitude of these visual effects thrown at you, the tensions soon starts to build, considering the amount of doors you’re opening it was a genuine shock when I finally came across what would usually be a early, cheap mandatory scare, these are highlighted by your standard audio bumps and bangs, but it’s the audio outside of these jumpy moments which takes a step up. The knock of a door, the sound of burning, the chatter of children and the knock of a mannequin doll literally banging it’s head against the bed.
The audio range is impressive and does a fantastic job of setting the atmosphere, even if only gradually.
There’s more than your fair share of scares and visual effects, both recycled from past horror games, and a nice range of the new, but the most impressive aspect has to be the atmosphere that’s finally set which does take a while. The graphics alone do a good job, while intentionally dull, and grainy there’s the whole Blair witch feeling which doesn’t rely on sharp colourful visuals and 60 frames per second, but instead uses an intelligent mix of visual effects and lighting.
Like mentioned above it takes over an hour for the atmosphere to really set in and immerse you into the mind, but by the time you’re in the children’s bedroom, you’ll be engrossed enough to find scares and disturbing images in abundance.
And it’s this second half of the game where Layers of fear really comes into it’s own, sure you’ll encounter a few more puzzles as the game progresses and unfortunately it’s the old fashioned puzzles such as find a code, or collect an item which are the downfall.
When you’re walking around in circles to find a different room when you turn around, there’s a whole new challenge to distinguish if you should turn around or follow the endless path and towards the final third of the game you’ll then have to contend with the ghost of your wife who clearly has an issue with your mental state.
Trying to play through without dying feels an easy quest at first, and you’ll be wondering if it’s even possible, but soon enough you’ll see a door slam or hear noises behind you and these are the times when there’s a bit more tactical thinking required. Achievements open at a steady rate, and there’s a few that are going to need more time if you wish to chase them all.
Value wise it’s not the longest game, few sessions will get you through, but there’s enough challenging achievements and outright crazy events which will make you want to revisit the artists house and mind.
It’s worth remembering that Layers of Fear is still currently under the game preview program, Which is impressive as it’s a solid game already and still there’s time to improve further.