In the game Layers of Fear, you take the role of a struggling artist attempting to compose his magnum opus. The game presents itself in the first person, allowing you to really live through the machinations of the creative mind when it is under duress. Layers of Fear tells a distressing story that hits home for many creatives who obsess over their work, and the dangers that can cause for all involved.
Releasing on February 16 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Steam, Layers of Fear has already enjoyed an incredibly successful Early Access period, giving early goers a chance to play through some of the game while the game is in active development. Created using the Unity engine, Layers of Fear is one of the most unique uses of the engine I’ve seen to date. While the game in incredibly linear – most of it has you simply wandering from room to room within a run down, creaky old house – the game never truly feels this way.
Essentially a “walking simulator” – a genre that’s seeing somewhat of a renaissance with games such as Firewatch and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Layers of Fear isn’t that long of a game, which is good considering it’s $20 asking price. Those four-to-six hours you spend meandering through the halls aren’t exactly dull, however. Each room presents a new issue, whether it be one you must find and activate, or a vision from the mind of the artist playing out in front of you. Rooms such as an office where when you look up it seems to go on with no end, to a bathroom that has you stick your head under water to see the vision are but two examples of the incredibly varied representations of the cracking artists’ mind beautifully rendered on screen.
Early on, you realize that something tragic has happened to this man. The story is never really explained in Layers of Fear, rather its told through a series of letters and notes you come across while playing the game. People with OCD beware – Layers of Fear tempts you to open each cabinet, each drawer, oven, and so on to find these letters and trinkets that trigger memories that are tucked away. In fact, while playing the game for this impression piece with a buddy, he mentioned I obsessively closed the cabinets in this game more than my own kitchen, which currently has cabinet open as I look over. However, the drive to find these story items compels you to continue. You want to know more about the events that have lead up to this artist suffering from delusion and crippling self-doubt, though at one point seemed to be considered a Leonardo-esque talent.
Aside from jump scares – something that happened so frequently that Layers of Fear trained me to essentially “step back” whenever I opened a door – the game does lack in the actual “fear” department. You never feel like you’re actually in any real danger. It is, however, incredibly interesting how the environment seamlessly shifts from one vision to the next without notice. You could be in a room with four doors, yet when you turn and look at something behind you, you’re actually standing at the end of a hallway. Nothing in the game stays the same for long, adding to the illusion that you are slowly losing your mind. It reminded me a lot of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, where every turn you feel like you’re on the brink of insanity in Layers of Fear.
Unfortunately the game does suffer from some crippling framerate issues in some areas, even when running on a high end PC, which has also been noted by PC Gamer in their review. While the “final” version of Layers of Fear doesn’t hit virtual shelves until Tuesday, the framerate issues encountered during my playthrough did bring me right out of the immersion that Layers of Fear so adequately pulls you into. Though if you can get around those, or a post-launch patch clears the issues right up, Layers of Fear has to potential to be one of the better games in your line-up.
Layers of Fear launches on February 16 for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. Looking forward to Layers of Fear? Sound off with your experience in the comments below.
[Images via Layers of Fear/Bloober Team]