Layers of Fear Would be Great if it Didn't Try So Hard
Indie developer Bloober Team released their psychedelic horror title Layers of Fear back in February. While the game has become a quite hit among the community and has received praise from some critics, it is a game that just didn't gel with me. It has a spooky victorian house, an insane painter and a whole tonne of psychological crap going on. It should be right up my alley but it isn't and here is why.
What in the Amityville Horror is Layers of Fear?
Well, it certainly isn't an Amityville Horror, I wouldn't be writing this very article if it was. Essentially, Layers of Fear is a horror "walking simulator" where the player takes on the role of an artist, who is going insane, as he attempts to create his magnum opus.
The player must explore the old victorian house as it constantly changes and ghastly apparitions appear. The objective of the game is to collect the various "tools" the artist requires to complete his masterpiece. The problem is, the mind of an artist going insane, is not a place to be and anything is possible.
Layers of Fear is like a comedian that tries too hard to be funny
Have you ever been to an amateur stand-up comedy night? Usually, there is at least one poor unfortunate individual who just tries too hard to be genuinely funny. What happens when you try too hard to be a comedian? Everything begins to become cringeworthy and the entire act loses what positives it had.
Layers of Fear does exactly the same but instead of attempting to be hilarious, it is trying to be horrifying. And just like the example of the comedian, it backfires like a gun with a blocked barrel. How so? You might be wondering. To be honest, the game starts off well by allowing the atmosphere to build and nothing really happens for the first while.
But once the game gets going and starts firing its shall we say... "horror elements", it just kicks into turbo gear and doesn't bloody stop. The only points in the game where things calm down are during puzzles and the beginning and end of each chapter.
Not only does it begin to get old very fast, it also does the worse things it can possibly do. It lessens the impact and general positivity of what actually makes the game good. How does it do this? Allow me to explain.
Hogging the spotlight
The "scares" in Layers of Fear are so relentless and so frequent that they hog the spotlight from any of the other features that are actually good. As much as I don't like the game, I would give it the thumbs up for atmosphere. That is if the atmosphere wasn't drowned out by the never-ending onslaught of the game attempting to scare the player too much.
The "scares" don't give the atmosphere time to do what it does best, build up and unnerve the player. It is that build up that allows the player to become paranoid, and gets their mind into gear to make them genuinely scared. Once the fear sets in, it allows for the actual "scares" to be effective.
This isn't the case with Layers of Fear. Instead, it just ends up with it being a case of, "oh look another creepy looking apparition," or, "oh another door that has slammed shut. How many is that now? 20?" Not only does it become boring, it also becomes predictable. You know something is going to happen in the next room.
If you are expecting it, you brace yourself for it and therefore isn't scary. As if that wasn't bad enough, Layers of Fear has one other problem. It depends too much on jump scares.
Cliche jump scares coming out of its nostrils
If a video game had nostrils this one would have creepy faces coming out of them. You may have noticed I have been phrasing scares as "scares" throughout this article. My reasoning for it is because they are essentially all jumpscares.
Some people love them and some people hate them. While I am generally in the latter group, I do admire and respect them if they are done well. The occasional one here and there; the one that comes unexpectedly, I do give the time to nod my head in approval and admit that it got me.
In Layers of Fear, you could have three or four jump scares in any single hall or room. As I previously established, this gets old and predictable very quickly. Possibly the worst part of it is, they are so damn cliche. They have all been done before across all forms of fiction.
You have the creepy apparitions from practically any paranormal game and movie out there. You have paintings that change, there is your Dorian Grey. You've got the creepy victorian dolls, for no other reason than everything horror has to have them. Furniture mysteriously piled up on top of each other, that's from the Poltergeist movie. It's even got an almost direct copy of the dead woman from P.T. as if fans weren't already heartbroken enough to be reminded of that.
As if being overly reliant on jump scares wasn't bad enough, the fact that they have absolutely no originality just makes them all painstakingly worse. The developers could have done anything with this. It's clear the artist is going absolutely bonkers and with that anything was possible.
Instead of going for what they know scares peoples they should have gone a bit crazy and gone down the realms of absolute weird. You know, like Ice PickLodge's, Pathologic or Knock Knock. Their games are scary because the lack of familiarity causes unease with the player.
With a bit more time in the oven and some more imagination put into the scares and tone down their frequency a bit Layers of Fear could have been very effective. Sadly it isn't.
Layers of Fear isn't bad just very over-rated
The game isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. I have played far worse games this year. It is just very over-rated. Its visuals are fantastic, especially for an indie developer using the Unity Engine and my goodness the sound effects are brilliant. It does have a few scary moments throughout -- not to mention some great rooms with genuine imagination put into them.
Like the room that melts, the library and the area where all the Draughts pieces float in the air. The problem is just like the atmosphere, the game is trying so hard to scare you that the jump scares get the spotlight -- while the actual great parts get the shepherd's crook.
It's one of those games where it's few negatives greatly drown out the many positives. This simply ruins what would otherwise be a great experience.