There is something about the horror game genre that makes it standout more than any other medium horror features in. Whilst a book may encourage the readers imagination to create imagery or a film telling a gruesome tale on the big or small screen, it is the interactivity of a video game that perhaps really brings the genre to life. But the classic jump scare tactic is growing tiresome as a gameplay style so new titles must push every limit to deliver the best and most frightening experience possible. The latest title from developer Blooper team has gone full tilt with their latest title Layers of fear, first available as early access on STEAM but now released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Can it offer something different and memorable to the genre?
The player takes the role of a painter, returning to his mansion on a stormy night with one task, to complete a painting that is incomplete. A short audio message to the artist plays ending with just two words ‘Finish it’. What happens next is perhaps one of the most mind twisting games in the genre Iv yet to play. It is not a genre I find appealing usually as I find the over use of jump scares to be a very tired gaming vehicle but Layers of Fear uses far more intelligent ways to take the player on a very mind tripping story.
From the moment you enter the house you can already see how the world of Layers of Fear is going to be. The Victorian mansion is beautifully drawn and built and you move around it in first person view. You can open doors and drawers using the right trigger and analogue stick to pull them open. Just this little detail pulls the player more into its world as you are opening the doors instead of it simply being an automatic reaction to pressing a button. As you explore the house you will discover notes and clues about who this painter is and how he came to be in this situation. These clues help to paint a picture (sorry) of a formerly successful and highly respected artist who has lost his way and began a fall into alcoholism. There are more but I will spare any further spoilers, but it is worth having a good look around drawers, desks and tables for such clues.
Discovering the unfinished painting is the moment the game kicks it up a gear. Layers of Fear main focus is to try and disorientate, confuse and ultimately make the player feel uneasy about venturing into every room in the house. In this regard not felt very similar to the now infamous P.T. demo on PlayStation 4. I will admit that I entered Layers of Fear expecting a similar experience but how the developers have taken it to a new level is very clever indeed. The house will literally change around you and in front of your eyes. You can enter a room, turn around and find the door has vanished. You can walk down a corridor to a room, find that the door is locked and turn around only to find a different looking corridor. This leads to the player never really knowing where they are at times and generates a real sense of uneasiness about opening a door.
It also means that rooms can also change depending on how the player moves the camera, messages can appear on walls where previously it was merely a blank space. Due to the character being a painter, the walls of the corridors and rooms can be adorned with many beautiful paintings, which even at a distance can look intricately recreated for the game. Get too close and the paintings may start to melt right in front of you or overtime become distorted from their original look and now looking twisted and sinister. All of this depicts the idea that the painter is beginning to lose his mind and as the madness takes over the way in which the game intensifies the mind games steps up a gear.
The music and sound effects are also key in Layers of Fear and used really well. The music is very atmospheric and the sound effects all blend together with the visuals to help mess with the player. This is extremely impactful when wearing a headset and later stages in the game can be freaky enough on their own to make the player feel uncomfortable.
With a short gameplay time of under five hours, it felt as though it was really meant to be one of those game experiences that you talk about with friends rather than a game you keep returning to. It is by no means an on the rails title but it will guide you in the right direction when needed to keep the flow of the gameplay going. After a while you do end up waiting for the audio cues to point out what direction or door to go through and what chest you need to look inside. The game does have puzzles but these are never really there to stomp the player but merely to provide something to do as there are no combat elements to count on. Once the player begins to know what to wait forming terms of direction cues it dampens the effectiveness of the techniques used till now but the sense of the mental state of the painter getting worse never leaves and entering a room still held enough intimidation to use caution.
Sadly though the experience is tainted by terrible framerates right from the very moment you take control in the game, making moving feel very sluggish and slow. I was forced to turn off the head bobbing option to try and improve it. I also found some of the tactics used to scare felt very cliché at times which took away from the shape shifting environments. Using creepy dolls is a tired gimmick in horror games, and yes they can be effective, their placing at times just felt over used.
Not being a big fan of the genre, I was pleasantly surprised by what Layers of Fears delivered here. Though I felt it was purely a play through once for the experience game, I could see how effective the techniques used to mess with the player’s mind would be to fans of horror games. It has a dark and at times uncomfortable themes to the story but it at least dares to do something fresh with game mechanics used so often by so many.
If the framerate issue can be resolved it will be a much smoother experience but for me, it has certainly put me off going on any painting courses for some time!