Layers of Fear
Gameplay 9
Graphics 9
Sound 9

With its surreal setting and constantly shifting rooms Layers of Fear is a game that is both immersive and captivating. It loves messing with your perception, but also features enough jump scares to keep you on edge all the time. Unless you take the time to explore your surroundings and uncover the clues you’ll miss out on most of the story elements, so it is not a game to rush through. Thanks to its beautiful visuals and excellent audio it is definitely a cut above similar titles in the genre.

Gameplay: Minimal puzzles, but simply exploring the surreal setting of the game is a nerve wracking experience.

Graphics: Very polished and highly detailed.

Sound: Quiet when it needs to be, but also very effective at using audio to unnerve players

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Layers of Fear

Developer: Bloober Team SA | Publisher: Aspyr | Release Date: 2016 | Genre: Adventure / Indie / Horror | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Ever had one of those nightmares where you are lost in some dark, creepy place and cannot find your way out again? Well, Layers of Fear is the video game equivalent of that nightmare. The dark and creepy place in this instance is a Victorian-era mansion, while the protagonist is a painter who lost his mind. Clearly the painter had a family and career at some point, but due to a series of tragedies his sole purpose in the game is to finish his Magnum Opus. However, with materials that include blood, human flesh and crushed bone it is definitely not an ordinary painting that he is trying to complete.

Horror games are very much in fashion these days, but there are only so much blood, gore and monsters you can fling at players before repetition sets in. Layers of Fear plays out in first person, but instead of fighting or evading monsters the focus is primarily on the story and exploring the mansion. While this might sound like it would detract from the experience the opposite is actually true and we found the game to be immensely creepy throughout. After all, in games with foes the scares eventually wear off or you get stuck dying/getting caught so much that the gameplay descents into frustration instead of fear. This is not the case in Layers of Fear as even without the risk of death the game constantly keeps you on your toes.

Now dimly lit and nearly photorealistic looking Victorian mansions are creepy enough at the best of times, but when viewed from the perspective of a clearly disturbed protagonist it becomes even more chilling. A few games in the past have featured changing or shifting environments, but in our opinion none of them managed to pull it off as effectively as LOF. Every time you turn around in the game your surroundings could be drastically different and the changes are not always for the better. A long hallway suddenly becomes a claustrophobic room, an ordinary study sudden looks like it was coughed up from the bowels of hell and don’t even get us started on the paintings. Let’s just say that we are not planning any more visits to art galleries any time soon due to the trauma caused by the paintings in LOF. The way that everything around you can change without any loading screens to spoil the fun is really incredible and will have you constantly looking over your shoulder. The further you get in the game the more surreal it becomes and since the house is not bound by any physical limitations there are is almost no end to the amount of rooms and corridors to explore.

As we mentioned earlier the textures in the game are almost photorealistic and the visuals are downright beautiful. The game makes the most of the 19th century setting of the story and the house is filled with painting and decor of this time period. The amount of detail lavished on everything keeps the game interesting all the way through and the lighting is equally great. LOF is definitely not a game that is afraid to plunge you into total darkness and leave you fumbling around either.

The game is spread across six chapters and your only goal is to hunt down the macabre ingredients needed to finish your painting. You can interact with your surroundings by opening doors, cupboards and drawers, but you won’t find any weapons or foes. Your time is mostly spent exploring and even this is simplified as you cannot really get lost. Checking out every nook and cranny does pay off though as you’ll find notes, photos and mementos that flesh out the story. Occasionally you’ll also run into puzzles to solve, but these tend to be very straightforward and shouldn’t pose much of an obstacle. The game doesn’t rely on blood or gore for its frights, but in addition to all the general creepiness going on there are also a couple of jump scares. Some might see this as a cheap way to startle players, but it is certainly very effective.

Good audio is essential for a great horror experience and, when played with decent headphones, this game delivers in spades. Playing it with a pair of surround sound headphones was almost too much at times for us due to the constant noises behind the player, eerie whispers and echoing footsteps. In addition to some atmospheric tunes the game also knows when to dial things back and go very quiet, which is equally scary. Walking around in near darkness while listening to the disturbing sound of glass or wood crunching underfoot definitely had us on edge most of the time. There are also some voice snippets that do a good job of shedding some light on certain events. The controls are straightforward enough and interacting with objects is as easy as clicking on them. Having to use the mouse to pull or push doors and other objects is also a neat touch as it makes the experience more immersive.

The only thing counting against LOF is the fact that it can be completed rather quickly. Instead of rushing through all the rooms we recommend taking the time to actually search the environments for clues. Doing this not only reveals more of the story and increases the longevity of the game, but also influences how the game ends. After the first playthrough the scariness drops down a couple of notches, but it is worth it to see the other endings.

If you are looking for a horror experience that involves running away or beating up all kinds of eldritch horrors then Layers of Fear is probably not for you. If however you are looking for something that is unnerving and constantly messes with your perception then you’ve come to the right place. It is easy to dismiss the game as a “walking simulator” set inside a haunted house, but it features a level of polish and uniqueness that not many other titles have. So turn down the lights, crank up the volume and immerse yourself in the twisted reality of this game.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows 7
  • Processor: Intel Core2 Quad Q8400
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 1GB / Radeon R7 250X 1GB
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage: 5 GB available space
  • Additional Notes: Supported Gamepads: Microsoft Xbox 360 Games for Windows (Wired), Microsoft Xbox One Controller (Wired), Sony PS4 DualShock 4 controller (wired), Steam Controller
  • OS: OS X 10.10 or 10.11
  • Processor: 2.3GHz Intel Core i5
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB VRAM / Nvidia GeForce 750M / Intel HD 6100
  • Storage: 5 GB available space
  • Additional Notes: Supported Gamepads: Xbox 360 for Windows controller (wired) and the Xbox One controller (wired)
  • OS: Steam OS, Ubuntu 14.04 and 15.10
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 3470
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB
  • Storage: 5 GB available space
  • Additional Notes: Supported Gamepads: Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller for Windows (Wired), Steam Controller

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