Welcome to my review for Layers of Fear
Developed by: Bloober Team
Published by: Aspyr Media
Release Date: 16 th February 2016
Layers of Fear by Polish developer Bloober Team is a rarity of the horror genre. Unlike other games which I have been told are scary, or will make you jump and have a tense atmosphere, Layers of Fear is genuinely that. I don't scare easy when playing horror games, watching films, or reading a book. Sure there can be some tense moments, but a lot of the time I just feel as though it really isn't a genuinely scary experience. The only game, or any form of media for that matter, in the last 10 years that has genuinely scared the living daylights out of me at any point was Outlast. Which reminds me, I need to find time to get back into that as I have been very busy.
So what is this all about? You assume the role of an insane painter. One who is looking to create the perfect masterpiece, and being of the frame of mind that he is in, nothing is perfect at all. Highly self critical, and also critical of others. Couple this with a short temper, and his mistreatment of others, and this forms the back story, and the lead up to your adventure in the mansion. You gain more history of events from family momentos, and notes left lying around in drawers, or on the floor, and voices from the past speak out, or scream out, venting frustration in all directions, from all parties involved.
The setting of the mansion is an eerie one, and when played with the lights off and headphones on, this becomes one game that can truly scare you. There are other moments but I will get to that shortly. The mansion itself has many doors, and rooms that at first look appear totally normal, if a little messy and neglected. A painter has more important matters to deal with you see. Shadows and ambient noises play a major role in generating an atmosphere that will make you look twice at every step and turn. I was on edge so often, and checking everything as I thought I saw something. Paranoia perhaps? Was I going insane too? The psychological effects of this game were certainly having an effect on me.
The game does a good job of leading you in the right direction on some occasions, as once through a door, it shuts and locks behind you. This creates an uncertainty, and nervous approach to what lies ahead. My first experience of a proper jump scare involved a piano. I wont go in to too many details. But I jumped out my seat, and it wouldn't be the first time. The toy dolls later on in the game made sure I was paying attention. I hate dolls, they are one of the few things that unsettle me, and to have them in the game raised the scare factor exponentially for me personally. Well played Bloober, well played.
One sign of the insanity from our painter, is the obsession with rats which he maintains are infesting his house, yet a letter that you quickly discover, argues the claim and to stop the harassment. Are they real? Or are they the figment of a broken mind? I sure as hell saw them scurrying about the floors. Rat drawings can be found around the mansion along with rat traps. The former are a collectable within the game. Family momentos can also be found expanding on the madness and insanity, which in turn helps you understand more about the story and how he came to be so obsessed with the "perfect painting".
You may think that it's just wandering around a creepy dark mansion. And you would be wrong. The mansion distorts and warps reality and the physical world around you, and in ways that are so bizarre. Walking in to one square room, there are 3 other doors. Upon opening each one, you are confronted with brick walls. Immediate thought is go back the way you came. But the door is gone! Continuing to turn around will reveal that one by one, each door disappears into thin air. Am I going crazy too? I'm sure there was doors here a minute ago. One final turn and a hallway appears. That wasn't there.
Bloober have create a masterpiece in my humble opinion, and I certainly hope that they didn't go insane in the process. They make you question your surroundings, from the shadows dancing around, to the disappearing and reappearing doors and hallways, and even floating furniture and random objects. The moment when you encounter a doll that falls on the floor and screams as it plummets is just unsettling. I felt totally creeped out, and had to pause the game to compose myself. Then there are the ghostly apparitions of your wife that haunt the mansion, and you will encounter her. How you deal with her is your call. Me? I ran like a little girl. The psychological torment I dealt with playing Layers of Fear is something I have never felt before. Don't get me wrong, Outlast is a fantastic game from what I have played so far, and I'm not disrespecting Red Barrels effort. But that is a game that relies upon real world, tangeable horror where other people who deal with insanity on a permanent basis, can and will hurt you. Layers of Fear plays with your mind like a child would play with a toy. It manipulates you into thinking you have seen something when you walk in to a room, or stare at an inanimate object, expecting something to happen, and then doesn't.
The story arc splits in to 3 parts as you progress through the game, rewarding you 3 totally different end results for the painting you are working on between chapters. This is down to decisions you make with regards to interactions within the world, and whether or not you are just that self obsessed with finding all the collectables in the mansion. I wont spill the beans on what they are in case you haven't played it yet. But don't despair, the game isn't a long game, and being able to work towards 3 different outcomes gives you value for money. I have finished it once, and don't mind working my way through another 2 times, as I genuinely want to see what other endings are on offer.
Layers of Fear certainly sits in my collection as one of the best Indie games I have played on Xbox One, and if you like your horror, and some jump scares then you can't go wrong with making a purchase. The price is entirely justified, and if you buy The Masterpiece Edition, you get the Inheritance DLC included for an extra £3. A bargain if you ask me. I sincerely hope that Bloober Team work on more horror games in the future, as they definitely have the knack for the genre, and are fully deserving of all support and praise
Graphics: Given the dark, moody atmosphere, they have the chance to cut back on detail as it would be too dark to really notice. But when there is light in some areas, the game does look good. But you can see them paintings, and feel them eyes of the painting staring into your soul. So is the light really a good thing? In conclusion, visuals are fine and I have experienced no issues with them.
Musc/FX: Mostly just eerie ambient noises to creep you out, and plenty of crashes and bangs to bring the jump scare factor into play. You will also hear the piano playing on a couple of occasions but that is your lot when it comes to music. A fantastic job in this area, and make sure you wear some headphones in the dark while playing for a superior experience. You'll thank me. Or curse me.
Gamelay: Easy controls to learn. So you wont find any trouble with learning them. Responsive and works fine.
Longevity: Three play throughs if you want to get all endings and the achievements associated with them. You're looking at approximately 4-5 hours each run. Depends on how quickly you charge through them in all honesty. Me? I like to take my time, so my game time will be a bit longer. My estimates are at the high end of the time frame, so you may finish the game quicker.
Achievements: One for each ending, and one for each of the collectables. This time they have a purpose and offer an insight to the insane mind, and his frustrations.
There are some miscellaneous achievements on offer, such as searching through 100 draws, or taking 1000 footsteps. But in all, they are not that bad, and yes you have to play the game more than once, but once you know your way through, each subsequent run will take less time.
In conclusion, this is am experience I am glad I had. A great game by a talented developer, and I for one want Bloober to continue creating games for Xbox One. Even if it's not a horror.