Layers of Fear is a psychological horror game developed and published by Bloober Team, releasing worldwide on February 16, 2016. The concepts of guilt, grudges, and schizophrenia are explored through the point of view of a forsaken painter with a dark past and a steadily deteriorating mind. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as you bear witness to the terrible truths that haunt the mind of the artist.
Story & Flow
We are immediately introduced to our protagonist, a seemingly aging artist struggling to complete his magnum opus, his masterpiece. As the simple task quickly takes a turn for the worse, his mansion begins to change as hallways are suddenly blocked off by brick walls and parts of the house become horribly decayed. Making his way through the labyrinth that has become of his home, we are slowly able to piece together the tragedies that tore his mind and family apart. The artist was a husband to a famous singer who would later give birth to his daughter. Life was good.
However, a fire gravely disfigured the artist’s wife, promptly ending her career as a vocalist on stage. Driven into a deep depression, the artist suffered from intensive mood swings, forcing his craft onto his daughter. This is evident as the mansion is littered with child drawings that have been visibly critiqued with black ink. The artist’s style also began to shift, becoming much more gruesome and horrific, causing his own career to stagnate. We are led to believe that by completing one last painting, the artist may be able to overcome his darkness. The themes of decay and guilt are heavily emphasized in the artist’s hallucinations. Letters of correspondence from friends and doctors reveal that the artist, who was once greatly revered and adored, had become isolated from the world.
Layers of Fear takes a first person point of view and provides a breadcrumb trail of information for the player to follow. Gameplay consists of investigation and puzzle-solving to progress to different parts of the mansion and different memories to piece together. Interacting with specific items proved troublesome at times when the icon would snap between two other points of interest. One unique aspect was that the point of view was slightly tilted, which was a result of the artist having a prosthetic leg, causing him to move with a slight limp. While engaging from a story standpoint, the puzzles are counterintuitive, with collectibles sometimes misdirecting the player away from actual clues to proceed. One notable example was when the artist is trapped in a room with a padlocked chest. Investigating the nearby drawer, you discover a torn wedding invitation that suggests the combination for the padlock. However, the actual combination is shown only by igniting the candles in the corner of the room, illuminating disfigured paintings. There are several more instances like this throughout the game, and while they may not flow well, they are not so hindering as to take away from the overall horror experience.
Graphics & Sound
Using the Unity Engine, Layers of Fear delivers realistic set pieces that players can interact with to some extent. While maybe not to the level of the Amnesia games, Layers of Fear's rooms provide a good amount of things to interact with without overwhelming the player. The lightning effects add a great level of detail to large environments from battered hallways to dusty bedrooms. The mansion feels alive and eerie with every door opening and every step on creaking floorboards. Ambiance is very well set with directional sounds and chilling music, making you watch for every minute detail both in graphics and sound.