Layers of Fear is more fascinating than terrifying, but it screws with you in novel, twisted ways that most games of its ilk usually don’t. Not content to merely whisper scary noises and contrive cat scares, Layers of Fear skillfully and actively warps your in-game reality and perception thereof. It’s basically a 1st person mindf*cker.
Unraveling the story that has led to your virtual alter-ego’s sad and scary state of affairs is basically the goal of the game, which is truthfully more of a 1st person horror “experience” than a game, in a vein similar to Kholat and other Slenderman-inspired works.
To complete the game you must find 6 special objects, which requires some modest puzzle-solving but mostly consists of traversing a linear path through a house of horrors and finding other objects and notes that reveal past memories and events.
Generally speaking I enjoy horror games, although I typically prefer more action-oriented survival horror along the lines of Amnesia: The Dark Descent or SOMA. However, as long as the story and game play are intriguing enough and well-made, I also enjoy “horror experience” games.
This sh*t is crazy
You can’t ‘die’ in Layers of Fear, which mutes the inherent fear-factor, but you can still enjoy its masterful manipulations and creative creepiness while it actively distorts and changes reality (i.e. screws with you). Layers of Fear counterweights its lack of a ‘death penalty’ (which is rarely much of a penalty even in games where you can die) with some of the freakiest, real-time horror shenanigans I think I’ve ever experienced.
You’ll walk down a hall, reach a dead end, and then turn around only to find everything behind you is completely different. Walls melt. Rooms change in front of you—but more unnervingly, they change behind you and around you, constantly disrupting your senses. Doors appear in the floor. Sometimes you’ll look up and see a ceiling. Sometimes you look up and the ceiling looks back at you.
Scary sh*t materializes in and around you. Windows open and slam and objects move, fall, and teeter as if the house itself is a live. The very fabric of the game’s reality is malleable.
And the further you go into the game, the crazier everything gets. Three words: Floating Doll Heads. (Thankfully, there are no clowns.)
Despite the phantasmagorical freak show Layers of Fear paints for you, it’s never quite as scary or terrifying as it is just fascinating to watch unfold. There are a few modest puzzles to figure out, but mostly Layers of Fear is a very linear experience. It can occasionally frustrate because it won’t let you advance until you’ve done the things required to do so, which usually consists of finding a note or object, and/or experiencing something terrible.
Layers of Fear’s only real shortcoming is in its narrative, which in my opinion gives itself away far too quickly. Long before you’ve finished the game, you’ll already have figured out what happened and to some degree what is “going on”.
Regardless, you’ll probably still see it through to the end because watching the way the game toys with you is so interesting.
Overall: 4/5 stars
If like “horror experience” games then Layers of Fear is a masterpiece for its genre. If you’re expecting Layers of Fear to be something more akin to Amnesia or SOMA you’ll probably be a bit disappointed, but you may still enjoy the ride.
On a side note, I’d love to see a fully-fledged FPS game like Amnesia: The Dark Descent merged with the creepy environmental antics of Layers of Fear for a true survival horror experience. Layers of Fear would likely make an excellent VR experience as well.
Layers of Fear Steam page