I like horror games, but I have to admit that the recent trend of having to run and hide from monsters is getting stale. In an oversaturated market Layers of Fear stands out. I should be up front by stating Layers of Fear is a “walking simulator” game in the vein of Gone Home or Firewatch. I enjoy the genre, but it can be polarizing. There is no inherent danger or monster trying to get you in Layers of Fear, instead the horror is environment and atmospheric. When playing through Layers of Fear, I felt as if I was strolling through a digital haunted house. Since the game is linear in fashion, all the scares are engineered. It was refreshing to just experience the game as the developers wanted me to going from one scare to the next. The formula works and the game is paced in a way that I rarely felt bored.
Within the game you play a once famous painter who is struggling to find the success he once had. Throughout the plot of the game, you’ll experience his descent into depression, alcoholism, and eventually madness. It’s a human story and despite the main character being totally insane, you’ll catch glimpses of clarity that makes the madness all make sense. Layers of Fear is unique in the way that it plays with your psyche using the theme of mental illness. Players will come to a dead end only to turn around and find themselves in a new area. Perspective is played with a lot creating the a sense of never really knowing what to expect or what’s going to happen as everything is constructed in an illogical manner. At times I dreaded turning around expecting a jumpscare to occur only to find nothing. It’s an unnerving feeling.
Since the game is so psychological, it freed the developers to do whatever they wished to get a scare. All the typical horror tropes are there, objects fly across the room, creepy dolls giggle at you, and twitchy ghost things walk towards you. It’s the more bizarre scares that stuck with me, which there are plenty of. In one room, the furniture melted, as I cranked a music box. It reconstituted when I played the record in reverse. Another scare involved a painting of fruit coming to life and sending cascading pieces of fruit to the floor. When the avalanche of citrus was done the painting was a bare and broken basket. It’s all weird stuff. I would love to see VR version of the game as seeing some of the visuals in “in person” would truly be something.
Layers of Fear is at it’s best when you’re going from set piece to set piece, but this linear journey stumbled at times. The game is progressed by doing a certain action which triggers the next event. On several occasions I found myself wandering the room wondering what I had to click on to activate the next sequence. The worst offense of this was the final set piece which I had to find several tiny checker pieces. Another problem people may have is the length of the game. There are several different endings, but my play through to get the “proper” ending only took 2 hours. Players will need to evaluate whether 2 hours game time is worth $20. Despite me really liking the game, even I will admit that price point is a bit steep. There is some replay value, but I just fear (editors note: Is this supposed to be a pun?) that most of the thrill of the game would be gone since the scares would all be known.
Overall, Layers of Fear is thrilling and creepy horror game. I haven’t’ played anything quite like it, and it’s depiction of mental illness was great. If you’re a fan of horror games I recommend you try it.
Inheritance is the newly released DLC for Layers of Fear. Inheritance take place thirty years after the events of the first game, and you play as the painter’s daughter. In a quest to find healing from her traumatic childhood, she returns to her childhood home, which was the setting of the original game. Layers of Fear felt like a horror game and was creepy, but the tone of Inheritance feels different. The mood just felt really sad. My profession is a counselor, and I work with kids that have been traumatized. Playing through fictional scenes of childhood trauma was a little too much for me. People with a traumatic childhood may want to steer clear of this one for that reason.
From a gameplay perspective, I just didn’t enjoy inheritance as much. Much of the game you play from the perspective of a child walking around furniture that dwarves you. It was novel at first, but it soon lost it’s novelty the longer it stretched on. The scares just aren’t as good either. Everything is a lot more grounded. and the weird psychological scares aren’t as prevalent. Inheritance seems like the cutting room floor of set pieces that weren’t good enough to make it into the proper release. I also found myself wandering around looking for objects more often, which was a weakness in the original. The whole experience took me an hour to complete, and frankly that seemed a little long to me. The DLC just isn’t as engaging as the Layers of Fear. I personally, wouldn’t pay the extra to snag the DLC.