I am just going to put everything on the line right out of the gate: Layers of Fear is not easy to play. Actually, let me correct that: it isn't easy to play if you're a giant wimp, much like myself.
I've played my fair share of games in preview, and quite honestly didn't expect much from Layers of Fear. It's by Blooper Team, and its last game (Basement Crawl, a sort of dark take on Bomberman) has a score of 27 on Metacritic. Not only that, but I've been starting to feel like no games can scare me anymore. Sure, there are parts that make me jump and a lot of cheap thrills, but I've been craving a psychological aspect that I haven't encountered since Eternal Darkness on the Game Cube.
Related reading: After Basement Crawl, Booper Team would return in style with BRAWL. Brad's full review.
Enter Layers of Fear, a first-person horror puzzle games where you play as an artist attempting to finish his masterpiece. As Layers of Fear progresses, you learn more about the artist you are embodying. You feel is strength, his fear, his sadness. From the moment the game starts you are trapped in a dark house during a thunderstorm, and the entire atmosphere feels heavy. Fight or flight kicks in right away; for me, fight came on heavy. I was going to create my masterpiece come hell or high water. Less than twenty minutes later, you could find me quivering with fear under a blanket, refusing to come out.
It's not that anything life-threatening even occurred. I had heard glass break but assumed I had knocked something over in the game while brushing past a table. Slight spoiler alert: it wasn't me that broke the glass. I thought I was just going nutty and proceeded with my exploration. But all of a sudden one of the most horrifying things happened, and a ball rolled out of a child's room and down the stairs. There was nobody there to push the ball down the stairs, but there it was, rolling... rolling... rolling...
That is the extent of my spoilers for the game, but trust me when I say that it gets into your brain and makes you question reality versus fiction. You never know when something is going to happen, even if what happens isn't so scary on its own; nobody finds glass breaking or a ball rolling scary under normal circumstances. But with the heavy atmosphere in Layers of Fear, every slight movement outside of your own is cause for concern. There are paintings everywhere, and I still don't know if their eyes are following me or if I'm just imagining things.
I also still don't know why I'm so scared of Layers of Fear, but I am. Progressing through the game is painfully slow: I take one step forward, do a full 360-degree check on my surroundings, move another step, check my surroundings, and repeat. Fight is no longer seeming like the better option; I'd much rather flee this artist's home than stay in it one second longer. But I persevered. And it is worth every jump, gasp, scream, or blanket fort that results from the scares.
As the game is in preview, there are definitely some little bugs that I've come across. Sometimes background items flicker, such as bottles disappearing and reappearing while there is no movement on my part. In all honesty though, it barely matters because it don't impact anything. Otherwise, the graphics are crisp and clear despite the darkness enveloping the entire home. It's also worth noting that a high point of Layers of Fear is the sound. Sound effects are perfectly timed to provide everything from unsettling feelings to full-on frightfests, so crank the volume up!
For a game currently in preview on Xbox One (and Early Access on Steam if that's more your thing), Layers of Fear feels like a complete experience. A complete, terrifying experience into the mind (and house) of a painter who just wants to complete his masterpiece. Who knew art could be so scary?
- Lindsay M.