Layers of Fear is a First Person Horror game set inside the fancy 19th-century mansion of a once prominent artist that has fallen from grace. We play as said artist and minus the starting dialogue must piece together the story ourselves as we drunkenly and aimlessly stumble across said mansion in the hopes of turning a blank canvas into our magnum opus. Dark stuff, and we haven’t even mentioned his fondness of sticking already creepy pictures onto every corner of his house alongside some collectibles such as his deranged scribbles of rats, body parts and items of his past that trigger memories. You will have to keep a close eye on the environment and scuffle through drawers and other places in order to find them, which is easier said than done when you are always on edge due to the madness that occurs.
This title does an outstanding job at playing with your exceptions. It is not simply content to jump scare you but to truly get into your head, making you feel as if you are playing through a living nightmare where logic and common sense are nothing more than mere suggestions. The star of the show has to be the mansion itself with its impossible spaces and lack of any view of the outside world making it all too clear that you are trapped. Our protagonist could not express less concern over his situation as he silently continues to explore every crook and cranny of these endless halls before him in search of any more of his fragmented memories or just for some new material to paint with.
All of this requires nothing more of us than to keep walking forward. Whether or not we search for anything along the way is typically optional, aside from the few areas where you need to find a lever or some kind of code to get through. It can be considered to be a walking sim for most of your time with it, albeit one where you’ll be perfectly happy to remain staring at a sudden dead end rather than turn back and face whatever horrors are likely staring you down. You never truly feel safe in this, even inside of a well-lit room. Any number of things can go wrong or just freak you out, especially considering the fact that as soon as you lose sight of something it can then disappear and be replaced, including entire sections of the house. Not knowing what now lays behind you is just as offsetting as whatever insanity you are currently facing.
There is no jumping, no flashlight or really any other engagement other than a slight sprint and messing with the physic based objects ala doors or cranks. The necessary objects are very easy to find with the few actual puzzles being quite simple as well. One can indeed die in this title which is just as surreal as anything else that occurs inside those halls. So surreal in fact that I wouldn’t have even known I’ve bitten the dust if a Steam achievement didn’t pop up telling me so since we are just transported to a different area of the house instead of needing to regain progress. Yes, there actually is some sense of progress to this madness and it comes in the form of your painting. As you play more and more, it will begin to get complete with the end result of it being determined by how you play the game.
How one is supposed to play the game to ensure either a good or bad ending is just as obscure as anything else in this title. In total there are three of them to see, adding some replay value to a three-hour game. I did find the story itself quite interesting and due to its hands-off approach, is wide open to interpretation. With how little Layers of Fear demands from its gameplay and how dying has no meaning, it can be easy to assume that it can get boring since it lacks any real danger. Well, that is kinda of the case I’m afraid. That bit of knowledge that is always in the back of your head greatly diminishes certain type of scares such as seeing an enemy standing down a hallway. Luckily, it rarely straight up shows you the threat as it is more reliant on psychological horror but even with events such as objects being violently lifted and thrown towards you, it won’t really faze the player.
Any threat of physical harm falls completely flat. Where it truly excels is in attacking your sense of reason as you try to comprehend this insanity. One can’t help but to constantly gawk at all the bizarre occurrences that never falls into a pattern of predictability. I keep mentioning this but the dreadful feeling of never knowing what is now behind your back the second you turn away is simply splendid. These are not your cheap, loud jump-scares we’ve become so accustomed to over the years, this is like the sense of knowing there is nothing under your bed yet can’t help but fear it nonetheless we’ve all had as children.
With that being said, Layers of Fear is a delightful break from the norm of horror involving shooting zombies or finding random objects in a large empty map with nothing but a flashlight. It invokes the feeling similar to drowning or being lost somewhere you really shouldn’t with the hopes of ever escaping long since having vanished. Slowly but surely figuring out who our character is and what has caused him to become so out of touch with reality is interesting, while the creativity, great atmosphere, and sound design really sell the idea of walking a mile in the shoes of a madman. This may not be one of the most truly terrifying games you’ll ever play but what Layers of Fear is, is a truly unforgettable experience.