What is the definition of the word fear? A quick browse through the nearest dictionary will tell you that it’s “an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm”, other defining words listed under fear include terror, fright, horror, alarm and dread. The aforementioned words are all great ways to sum up the feeling of unpleasantness that sweeps over a person when they know something truly frightful awaits, however, words lined on a piece of paper or book seldom capture the very essence of what fear actually feels like in real life. That moment when the beads of sweat begin to formulate on the tip of your forehead, that tingling sensation when goosebumps begin pushing up through your skin or the cold chill that descends down the back of your spine causing every hair on your body to stand up, that’s real fear and it’s something Bloober Team and Layers Of Fear provide incredibly well.
Layers Of Fear: PlayStation 4 [Reviewed], Xbox One, PC
Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Aspyr Media
Release Date: 16 February 2016
Price: £15.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Throughout the years, the Horror genre has provided players with a variety of strong, hateful and monstrously evil villains to contend with, a great example of the typical archetype character would be Silent Hills resident butcher Pyramid Head who possesses the rather unnerving ability to fillet players with one slow yet meticulous swing of his giant razor sharp weapon, however, of all the genres greatest villains there remains one that seldom see’s the light of day, someone so pure in evil that the devil himself would be wary, I am of course referring to the human mind.
Layers Of Fear does not possess a Boxhead, Necromorph or Clicker to scare players witless, the games real monster lies within its protagonist, and what an enemy he is, not just to players but more importantly, himself. The latest title from polish developers Bloober Team acts as a perfect redemption piece after the mishappenings of 2014’s Basement Crawl while serving as a real treat for Horror fans.
Layers Of Fear takes players on a darkened voyage through the depraved and sickened mind of an alcoholic, schizophrenic painter who has returned to his Victorian style house to put the finishing touches to his own personal magnum opus. Much like the short-lived and ultimately ill-fated Kojima developed P.T and even more recently Midnight City’s brilliant Gone Home, Layers Of Fear see’s players condemned to navigating the lonesome corridors and rooms of one building. The setting for the game is dark and gothic by nature with paintings littered across the walls featuring some of arts darker geniuses such as Goya. Layers Of Fear excels at toying and playing with your mind, twisting, stretching and ultimately manipulating it with ease as the game pushes and prods you further towards the clutches of insanity, all rime and reason disintegrate with every corner turned and door cautiously opened, simply put if H.P Lovecraft owned a funhouse, this would be it.
While the game might foul of being too cliche with certain elements such as the typical creaking floorboards, little girls sobbing throughout dark empty corridors and doors slamming shut behind the player it also delivers them alarmingly well. This is mainly down to the eerie atmosphere captured so well inside the house you call home for the next few hours. The games precise and effective setups allow you to fall all too easily into moments where you become vulnerable to random jump scares or bumps and noises. In truth, you know they’re coming, you just can’t predict when or by what way and that is what separates Layers Of Fear from being a run of the mill Slender and brings it closer to its influences. Sharp knives fly across the kitchen piercing the door you are attempting to open, paintings dissolve and dribble into horrible pools of black ichor right before your very eyes, nicely decorated rooms crash and fall apart as you go to exit them, playing on one’s mind and sanity has never been more terrifying yet at the same time exciting.
There is a real level of uncomfortableness that follows your every footstep while exploring the house, you can’t trust any room you enter into and that feeling alone leaves you rather unsettled. Although the game is full of simply constructed puzzles to work through the real puzzle lies within the house itself. Often I would enter a room and turn to find the door had been replaced by a wall or painting, unlocked doors open to a wall of bricks with abuse written on it, on occasion rooms become smaller as you turn, leaving you almost trapped by the walls, before the room spits you back out. The Victorian style building that has become your own personal hell appears as if it’s shuffling itself with every room entered, beckoning you in through one door only to push you out into a brand new corridor. Layers Of Fear takes what scares you and uses that against you in such a way that you’re afraid to turn your back on an object or painting through sheer fear of the changes going on behind your back.
Further proof of the painters descent into madness is perfectly highlighted through random scribbled notes and letters aimed in the direction of the protagonist from his wife, friends, and agent, these fleeting moments provide sufficient evidence of the type of character players are in control of. Driven by an unhealthy relationship with his wife that borders on spousal abuse and a sickening obsession with his work that he refuses to let go of, the painter has lost all touch with reality and it is beginning to seep through every pore of the house. The notes, letters, and sketches scattered all over the house inside drawers and cupboards are the only real meaningful interaction players have within the four walls of the house other than opening doors and solving puzzles, they do however provide some of the games truly terrifying moments and great insight into the games leading star.
Layers Of Fear delivers a frightfully chilling take on one man’s descent into the mouth of madness, set inside one of the most beautifully haunting locations the genre has ever seen. The evil labyrinth of unsettling corridors and rooms twist and turn as the painter continues to drift away from any vestige of sanity. Bloober Team have succeeded in creating a suspenseful, psychological horror title that will wreak havoc on the minds of players brave enough to enter through the games front doors. Layers Of Fear is full of everything a horror fan could ever dream of with perfectly timed jump scares and a level of depravity that appears to know no bounds.