Layers of Fear is an indie horror game by polish developer Bloober Team. With a focus on sound and atmosphere over a traditional monster, does this horror title deliver? Or does the lack of a threatening presence leave much to be desired? Read on to find out!
Publisher: Aspyr Media
Developed: Bloober Team
Release Date: February 16th, 2016
Platform: Xbox One
Copy provided by publisher
With the right setting, the right game, and the right player, a horror title can be one of the most satisfying experiences you can have in gaming. I’m the type of player that likes to really submerge myself in a horror game by shutting off all electronics, turning off all lights, and leaving any Xbox Live party I’m in. A good survival horror game will make you want to put the controller down and stop playing. Games like Alien Isolation can have such an engrossing atmosphere that you truly feel like you’re in the game.
Layers of Fear failed to accomplish any of these tasks for me. The idea of a horror game not using a typical killer, monster, or otherwise threat of death is an interesting one. I’m not dismissing the premise, but the execution just wasn’t there.
The entire game is based around you wandering an old house attempting to retrace your steps. The who, what, where, when, and why are practically unanswered. The story the game tells is near nonexistent. Meanwhile the story a books worth of papers scattered around the house tells is another matter. I couldn’t tell you what that story was however, as I just began moving through the motions half-way through the game.
Aside from the miscellaneous puzzle here or there, all you do is open doors. One door, leads to another door, which leads to a hallway of doors, behind one of which is a door with stairs, and so on. I must have opened 500 doors in my one playthrough. It felt like the doors broke a 4th wall (no pun intended) more than they worked in the games favor. I couldn’t stop thinking “I bet that room got deleted after that door shut” after walking through three doors in a row. Which in most cases, it did. You can even walk backwards and see things get deleted as you progress. At least Dead Space 3 had the decency to put you inside a chamber while it deleted the game behind you.
Which leads me to my truly big issue with the game: the camera. Similar to Pneuma Breath of Life, the camera in Layers of Fear is at the core of the jumps scares and shifting environments. The house constantly changes as you move through it, but since it can’t always delete everything in front of your face, it needs to wait until you turn around before it can work. Walls might as well read “please turn around sir” when you enter one of these shifting areas. There are even times when progression is halted completely until you look at a specific object in a room that allows the room around you to shift.
The same goes for the jump scares. While Layers of Fear should be applauded for trying to do something against the norm of the genre, the only “fear” comes from jump scares that almost always revolve around your camera movements. In one example I was in an elevator that got stuck and the lights went out. The ceiling hatch opened to a pitch black void. So I just looked forward. Nothing happened. Knowing that I couldn’t progress until I looked up, I decided to slowly move my camera up. Then I noticed a woman protruding out of the hatch. But since I stopped my camera half-way, nothing happened. Only after I looked at the center of the hatch did the scream and jump of the woman occur.
This design of horror is good the first few times, but becomes more of a chore as you progress. In this age, where indie horror games are being produced by the dozens, Layers of Fear just doesn’t cut it. I respect the effort to do something new, but a horror game that doesn’t immerse its players just won’t cut it. A few more layers and this could have been a great game.
– Camera focus
– No trace of any meaningful story
– Doors, doors, doors