The path of the artist can be tough, it is said for an artist to paint they must first deconstruct themselves, think of it as soul searching. The artists must search their mind and uncover the dark truths that they try to hide, their own fears, and their own past. Only once they know themselves can they truly shine and create something of beauty, but those that can’t face themselves will forever live in torture, they become the tortured artist forced to walk a waking nightmare, forever scarred by themselves, their history, and often they fall to their own sanity.
Layers of Fear puts us in the shoes of a troubled artist trying to complete his masterpiece, and to do this we must venture through an inconsistent realm of nightmares to find inspiration for his creation. What this becomes is a journey into his mind to explore the artist’s tragic history and uncover the reasons behind his artist block, and this journey takes us through the doorway of the mind where we experience many troubling sites and plenty of disturbing imagery.
Layers of Fear begins as a seemingly simplistic experience, initially we are set free to roam the house of our artist. We can explore multiple rooms, and this helps to build the story, from a newspaper clipping we learn of a fire that injured multiple people cluing us in to a major story arc and bringing multiple questions to the table. This early exploration also offers the opportunity to set up this character and some of his problems, suddenly after gazing upon his 'would be masterpiece' the scene changes. Layers of Fear sets us out to explore a house that is now a jumbled mess, forcing the player to try to piece together the clever tale interwoven through this confusing setup.
The meat of Layers of Fear has us wandering through a series of rooms in what seems like a giant maze, initially these start out pretty basic as you venture through standard sitting rooms and corridors but soon the game changes. Certain rooms will trap you until you can complete a puzzle, some of these are built through the concept of searching paintings to find a code, while others require you to find an item. In some cases you even get to see the world completely transform as you turn around making it easy to never know what to expect one room to the next, this is as you seek inspiration that grows increasingly more disturbing based on the artist’s ever evolving mindset.
This games approach to horror is interesting and feels unique, Layers of Fear uses sound to better capture the element of fear for the player. Unlike other games which will cue in a creepy score as soon as you enter a room, Layers of Fear waits until you are looking directly at the thing that is supposed to frighten you. This is often more effective and makes it so you are blissfully unaware until something happens making it easier to capture a reaction, the sudden cue was quite impactful and really captured the tone on most occasions.
Sadly, the essence of fear never really lasted long, Layers of Fear takes around four hours to complete and only half of this is ever truly impactful. After a while, it is easy to grow to get used to the horror elements of the game to which they end becoming more tiresome as ideas are repeated, it’s at this point that the game seemed to try too hard but as the player you are ready to conclude your time with the game and it is tempting. Closer to the ending, the game seemed to rely more on typical scare tactics, such as writing on the wall with prompts such as “don’t look back”, which grew repetitive as you learn why looking back is bad.
In the latter half of Layers of Fear much of the fear elements fall to the player’s discretion, the game delivers more disturbing imagery, or at least things that are affecting to a wide variety of players. From paintings melting away to reveal something sinister, to a rotting creature that seems to constantly be chasing you, the sounds of a women crying, and the ways that the game occasionally uses dolls. All of these can help to keep you on edge and somewhat invested in the events, but these often felt like cheap tricks thrown in to deal with the games shortcomings.
Layers of Fear offers plenty of great ideas in terms of presentation and the way it tries to capture horror and fear, yet it falls short of most occasions. The game very rarely manages to use its best ideas to their full potential meaning that one section that was actually quite ominous and creepy involving a child’s drawings and dolls, quickly fell to the wayside, and Layers of Fear went back to the tired monotony that was already affecting the games enjoyment relying more on the same old tricks.
Despite this however, the one saving grace of Layers of Fear is the games narrative, there is a real sense of mystery that is presented with the game only really offering explanations through your own discoveries. Understanding our character is drawn to items that you discover on your journey which will slowly tell the tale of his history, and the strained relationship between himself and his wife. In order to complete the game you can choose to acknowledge as little of the story prompts as you wish, but these moments offer rare insight into the tortured mind of the artist explaining his shortcomings, fears, and his reasons.
As things begin to lose their impact within Layers of Fear, the story told throughout is immersive enough to pull you through the experience. The mystery draws you in making it easy to continue forward hoping to see the final outcome, although it does still have its shortcomings which do stand as a persistent problem within this game.
Everything feels like its half done, the scares fail to be persistent throughout the entire narrative, and the story itself feels like it is missing certain elements. Progressing through the story we begin to see certain ideas surface, yet by the end of the narrative some of these points seem to be forgotten. The interesting developments in the narrative just never reach a solid conclusion leaving many blanks in the artist’s tale, and unfortunately it is this part of the story which feels unsatisfying as the games ends.
Layers of Fear had a lot of potential, yet it seemed to fail to fully realize most of its ideas, the horror feels lacking, and the narrative becomes a mixed bag of a story told, and a story missing. There is so much that could have been done with this game but unfortunately it fails to offer the experience that would have made this something that we could have been proud of.