Layers of Fear Review

Cast as a once renowned painter, Layers of Fear finds the protagonist suffering from severe creative block as he struggles through his path in creating a new masterpiece. Locked inside a mansion, the disturbed amputee lurches through corridors and rooms in search of inspiration, but finds alcoholism and a notes from his terrified family instead.

The game begins when you pull the cloth off your latest work with a simple instruction, “Finish it”, and what follows is dive in to a mad world of art and horror. Inspired by classical paintings, many of which are twisted and warped and adorn the walls of the mansion, the layers – or perhaps depths – of madness of the unnamed painter are gradually revealed as six essential items are recovered to complete the masterpiece. Suffice it to say that you’re not looking for a pack of Crayola and a sheet of A4; this is a horror game and your art requires a much darker palette.

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The game includes every scary movie cliché you can imagine at some point or other. Every box is ticked, and you’ll encounter rocking chairs moving by themselves, creepy dolls, doors slamming behind you, ghostly apparitions, musical boxes, wheelchairs, balls bouncing down stairs, books flying off shelves and more. Whilst the tropes are out in force, the game’s master stroke is in how the mansion warps around you. Rooms can change in a blink of an eye, and turning around and walking back through a door you just entered through will often lead to complete different room.

It’s immensely impressive how the geometry of the levels change. For example, you could walk in to a square room with no doors whatsoever, turn around and discover the door has simply vanished, and whilst you are lookig behind you, the game replaces the previously blank walls with something terrifying, so you jump when you spin back. There are also P.T.-like sections where the same corridor will repeat time and again, or conversely where you’re presented with a long series of corridors that never repeat, despite the fact that you’ve turned right twenty times and have been walking round in circles.

Although you do spend most of your time limping from room to room, the game is never dull and constantly brings fresh, disturbing, sights. There’s always this shifting scenery around you, which means you’re never quite sure what to expect, whether it’s replacing the paintings and furniture in a room with childish scribbles or deforming the room’s contents as though everything were melting.

Whilst there is the odd ghost to be found and an awful lot of things banging on doors and prowling outside windows, the real monster of game is you. As you fall deeper into madness you can uncover the truth about your character and his deeds, none of which are pleasant. That said, even the most horrific of paintings can contain wonder and the same can be said for Layers of Fear, amidst the screaming dolls and warping corridors there moments of calm beauty.

A piano will play a gentle tune somewhere in the mansion, or perhaps gravity fails, causing hundreds of chequerboard pieces to float in to the air, allowing you to gently push them around like a sparkling zero G waterfall. It will only last a few seconds before the ceiling fan spins off and whizzes past like a giant throwing star, but at least there are a few moments of serene beauty amidst the horror of discovering what a twisted and depraved character you are playing.

There are secrets to discover and a rich back story, but the game is essentially one long haunted house ride, an extended version of the dream sequences found in 80s horror movies. Personally I have no problems with this type of game and it also makes a great passive viewing experience. A friend watched me play through all five hours or so, and with the lights off and the surround sound on he agreed it was just like watching a scary movie.

What’s Good:

  • Deeply atmospheric.
  • Intriguing story where you are not a hero.
  • Clever level design.
  • A true haunted house experience.

What’s Bad:

  • Puzzles are quite simple.
  • Some scares are repeated.

Layers of Fear sits somewhere between the pejoratively classified ‘walking simulators’ and a full game experience, as for the most part you are simply wandering around and solving the odd puzzle. Despite the clichés and obvious jump scares, I rather enjoyed my time exploring the mansion and I’m looking forward to having another play through to see what I missed the first time round. If you enjoyed the Silent Hills teaser P.T. and want more of the same, then Layers of Fear is well worth a look.

Score: 8/10

Version Tested: PlayStation 4

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22 Comments

  1. Is it as scary as that price? £15.99 for a couple of hours of game?

    And is the voice “acting” all as bad as the trailer?

    • Works out about £3 per hour. Are you really complaining about that? Less than a pint.

      • Given that this week I’ve been mostly playing Disgaea 5 and I’m at around £1 per hour from that (with no end in sight just yet), then yes, I feel £16 for 2 to 5 hours of game is a bit much.

        Which is a shame, as it looks like I’d enjoy it a lot. When it’s on sale or PS+, I’ll definitely have a go then.

      • Yeah buts thats a big RPG thing. AAA games usually clock in 10-15 hrs. That also works out at around £3 an hour for entertainment. It’s still cheaper than cinema, pub, etc.

      • 10-15 hours for a big AAA game would be quite disappointing. That sounds like a reasonable length, but then you might want to play through it again (maybe a harder difficulty that takes twice as long because you die every 3 seconds, or a whole bunch of things to collect). And then you might lose days to multiplayer bits.

        And £3/hr isn’t that much cheaper than a cinema, is it? Last time I went to the cinema was for that disappointing Star Wars, and that was around £4.50 an hour. Would have been under £3/hr, but we went mad and had pretend Imax and Atmos sound and chairs that went up and down at the touch of a button (while make amusing farting noises)

    • I always find the “number of hours” argument a bit strange, as if a game can only be considered worth picking up if its over x hours long.

      Granted, I’d be pissed off if I bought a brand new £40 game and was looking at the ending credits 1 hour later but, on the opposite side of the coin, I’ve played plenty of games which have felt too long, as if the developers felt obligated to make their games longer to justify the price of admission.

      The original Bioshock immediately springs to mind, as that final chapter was naff and the game would have been a lot better if it had stopped at the “would you kindly” revelation. Same with Resident Evil 4.

      To use a more relevant example, Alien Isolation was a brilliant game but far too long to keep momentum. Those first few hours were so good but the game was practically pushing me through its chapters towards the end as I was so sick of running and hiding.

      To me, I don’t buy games to keep me busy, I buy them for the experiences, be that story telling, gameplay, whatever. Not every game has to be 12+ hours long and £16 for a decent 5 hour horror game sounds pretty reasonable to me.

      Not an attack and you certainly aren’t alone, I just find it interesting :)

      • I’ve played shorter games and enjoyed them immensely. Journey for instance was one of the best PS3 games, and that’s maybe 1.5 to 2 hours? But it’s something you can play repeatedly.

        A 2 to 5 hour horror game won’t have much replay value, will it? If you’ve experienced all the tricks it relies on.

        I just think in this case, it’ll need to be cheaper to get me.

      • I found Wolfenstein: The New Order to be too long too. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but the story went on far too long and my interest started to wane between the half way and three quarters points. Not enough variety in the gameplay to keep me excited.

        As long as I’m enjoying myself the whole way through, I’m happy to pay the money :-)

      • Journey is rubbish tho :)

      • For me, Alien:Isolation could have been twice as long, it was brilliant from start to end. I was very happy it was that long.

      • I’m with you on that one Andrewwww, I didn’t want Alien Isolation to end. So good.

    • ‘Disappointing Star Wars’..?
      Moderator, can you kick that guy for this unacceptable heresy? ;o)

      • Yes, it was disappointing. Not a bad film, and obviously infinitely better than episodes 1-3. But still disappointing.

        Recycle the entire 1st (or 4th?) film and rely on the nostalgia thing (oooh, it’s Star Wars!). Just a big cynical money making scheme by Disney that was well made, fairly entertaining but ultimately nothing great.

        And yes, I’ll go and see the next one in the hope that it’s better now they’ve got all the “Look! Star Wars is back!” stuff out of the way.

      • No way, 1-3 are awesome, 4-6 are classics and I felt the same way about TFA as I did about Prometheus… Looks good but the writing sucks.

    • I couldn’t disagree more.
      Star Wars VII did so many things right that it achieved what Lucas himself miserably failed with I to III: it brought Star Wars back, it finally is a resurrection.

      Yes, it is Star Wars. You blame it for that? Then you went to see the wrong film, as you obviously don’t respect Star Wars for what it is.

      You expected it to be as groundbreaking as IV in 1977? Come on, are you serious? And I very much doubt it would still have been Star Wars.

      I also think you’re probably not really aware we are talking about films from the 70s and early 80s. Maybe you’ve first seen them in the 90s? Well over 30 years after the original trilogy it definitely does allow for a half remake to set the stage to continue.

      I’m very happy they didn’t turn Star Wars into something else just to be innovative and that they stayed true to the originals. I’ve enjoyed VII an awful lot.

  2. Reading the bit about how the rooms change and distort your perception then read this “whilst you are lookig bahind you”. Almost definitely unintentional but actually made me feel like the text was changing too. So kudos for that!

    • The words have shifted once more…

      • If you spin round in your chair twice this turns in to the Street Fighter V review. try it!

      • Tried it – Its magical!

        Everyone in the office is now looking at me as though I have a screw loose, which definitely wasn’t the case before.

        Some weird voodoo going on here…

  3. Not available in the Norwegian PS Store.
    No jump scares for me, then.

    Just as well, with me ageing ticker an all.

  4. This sounds more like my kind of horror game – one where you want might want to run away but it’s not part of the gameplay mechanics.

  5. Sounds cool, goes on my wish list. Started SOMA recently, and it’s a walking simulator too, so far. But given the atmosphere is halfway right, that’s ok for me.

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