Imagery and setting are powerful tools that an artist will use to connect to their audience. These tools allow the artist to create pieces which convey complex ideas, but are shown in a simplistic style. Layers of Fear, which is heavily inspired by Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, employs its 19th century setting to create atmospheric imagery and a sense of unease as you are put in the perverse mind of an artist who’s become unhinged. Just as a piece of art, Layers of Fear makes use of a minimalistic approach to present complex, thought-provoking ideas as the player slowly unravels the mysteries of the game.
The primary mystery of the game is to figure out its narrative and come to an understanding of the events occurring around you. Encouraging curiosity and exploration, Layers of Fear wants the player to put the story together on their own as you work towards finishing the masterwork of the artist. Objects like liquor bottles, jars of paint, newspaper clippings, and personal items are scattered throughout the game; each shedding a layer of mystery surrounding the game’s narrative and its characters. At times, a memory of the artist will trigger and provide the player with further detail as the game gradually pushes you towards the story’s end.
It is this sense of mystery and wonder of the unknown that will lure you into the world in which Layers of Fear resides. Set in an early 19th century home, Layers of Fear has you explore a well-furnished home that is decorated with lavish paintings crafted by well renowned artists – Francisco Goya’s famous work of art Saturn Devouring His Son is one such example. This antiquated environment creates an unnerving feeling as you navigate your way through lengthy hallways, untidy studies, unsettling nurseries, and cluttered family rooms.
Disturbing décor aside, the home isn’t very welcoming as unearthly occurrences continuously ensue putting the player on edge. Whether it is the sound of a distant scream or the melting of a painting as it transforms into a more nightmare inducing image, you’ll never feel completely at ease while walking through the halls and rooms. Suddenly, the doorway behind you vanishes, and a new passageway appears on the once bare walls. You open this new door to discover a room filled with paintings and a lone chair, but on the chair an item that triggers a memory. You reopen the door from which you came only to find that it now opens to a hallway. A sense of nervousness sets in, and you continue to move forward as the craving to discover what revelation is hiding in the next room proves too tempting.
The lure and appeal of Layers of Fear is the exploration of an ever-changing environment as you solve light puzzles, search furniture, progressively paint the full picture the artist has in mind, and come to understand the story. As the title suggests, there are frights one must sustain. Though many are of the jump scare variety, it is the atmosphere and sound effects that give you goosebumps as you anticipate the next scare to occur. As a room morphs into a new hell for the player to experience, it can be tied to the descent into madness that the artist is undergoing.
Given the nature of the game and its linear design, there isn’t much replay value to be found. Each chapter has collectibles to discover that will assist in filling out the story. Although the game is only takes a few hours to complete – most will complete the game within 5-6 hours if actively exploring and searching every cabinet or drawer. Where the game struggles is in its performance. The PS4 version, which this review is based upon, had a fair amount of screen-tearing and some frame-rate drops.
In a world devoid of P.T. – aka Silent Hills, we found Layers of Fear to offer an intriguing take on the horror genre and video game storytelling. Turn off the lights, turn up the volume, and immerse yourself in the world that Layers of Fear has to offer.
- Creepy atmosphere and sound effects
- Unique premise
- Performance issues with frame-rate drops and screen tearing
(Editor’s Note: A PS4 digital code was provided by the publisher for review purposes.)