Layers of Fear- It Was covered for a Reason: A Review From Scroo

The tortured and twisted mind of an artist driven mad by loss. There you have it, Layers of Fear in one line. But let's explore it a bit and see how just deep the vein runs.

On it's face...

...This is a story about an artist trying to create his masterpiece but is slowly driven insane in the process. Underneath, it's a story of love, loss, and regret and we get to experience this morbidly beautiful work of art in and of itself through the schizophrenic mind of a broken man.

Storytelling in Layers of Fear is done visually with walls literally melting away and paintings that may change their faces as you walk by. painting meltA spot or two here and there of written information will help affirm what it is you'll suspect is going on. I actually really enjoyed seeking information to flesh out the characters involved. Opening drawers and cabinets can yield a snippet of back story and perhaps a key to that locked door down the hall that you couldn't open. Maybe you don't want to. Either way eventually you'll end up back in your art studio to put the next touch on your magnum opus.You'll spend the entire time in the home of the main character and every corner has some way of scaring you. Atmosphere is perfectly wrought by the beautifully composed music and ambient noise. Floors creak, piano keys "tink", voices flit from surprising directions, weird scratching noises come from the rats that may or may not be there and even your prosthetic leg thumps against the floorboards; dull and heavy as you amble along. Sounds can at times even provide you with hints at how to proceed. The game takes place at night during a thunder storm (what else would you expect?) and the artist's old Victorian home has a special way of making you question whether or not you're even really there. Every step taken filled my mind with trepidation and managed to make me jump every time something happened, even when I knew it must be coming.

Progression...

...Is a pretty simple concept in this game. As the artist, your goal is to find a few objects that spark your creativity so you can complete the painting in your studio. So you'll wander the hallways in your home to seek them out and uncover memories of a recent past while you do. There isn't an inventory to manage, you'll just see items accumulate in the lower right hand corner of the screen and if you happen to find what they interact with then the object is used. Traversal through the artist's home is more or less on rails, but the game does a good job at making you feel otherwise as you push ever forward exactly where you're being directed.

rabbitholeThe house itself will try to confuse you by changing its own corridors, leading you in circles and never ending twists and turns. I remember at one point walking down a hallway toward a door: Behind me there was a noise so I turned around to see nothing, and turning back the door was replaced by a window. As I drew closer to the window I began to realize that there was no way for me to pass, so I moved to turn around again, and when I did I suddenly found myself on the other side of that window looking back at where I was just standing. This kind of thing happens from time to time and it's a wonderful mechanic that helps things feel pretty fresh when you start getting used to being scared.

One of the more interesting things...

...About this game is that you never really feel threatened by anything; unsafe, yes but not threatened. It's more like an ever present feeling of dread, of being unsettled and disturbed by events taking place in your home, your mind. It's not survival. You're not running helplessly from anything. It's just scary. The downside is that there's very little time for suspense to build between happenings, it's kind of one thing after another. Of course you as the player can take your time, move slow and help supplement that suspense to a point. But it would be nice to move through an area with a little quiet time once in a while to make the next surprise really hit that last nerve.creepy dollIt becomes very clear as you play that the artist is insane. Not just because the game tells you so, but also because of the visual information that is all around you. This feels like much more than just a typical haunted house. It's like a trip through the damaged psyche of a man who has had so many traumatic experiences that he can't tell what's real or not any more. As if he's trapped in his own mind until he completes this painting at any cost. In one beautifully illustrated scene, the symbology of the game seemed to rear it's head in the form of an open window. Like maybe it was first time in quite a while that the artist could clearly see. Then he's quickly shut out by the window frame slamming closed and is thrust back into madness. Brilliant.

Nothing bad ever happened while messing a Ouija Board right?

Graphically...

...Layers of Fear is quite pretty. Built using the Unity Engine, details are pretty spectacular. There are points where edges and decals can look a little fuzzy, kind of like a bad stereoscopic recording. I feel like this is probably due to some depth of field action but there's no way to turn it off or adjust it so I can't say. Textures look great, and on the whole the entire world build is impressive. Lighting is very good as well and brings life to even pitch black environments. Everything just comes together to immerse you in the scene. All this on top of great performance; on maximum settings I noticed very few frame drops and the ones I had were brief, lasting only a second or two. I'll post my own system specs at the end of this review for some comparison.

Conclusion

I had been very excited for Layers of Fear since I started hearing about it some months back and it didn't disappoint. It's been quite a long time since I played a horror title that managed to make me feel all of the things that this one did. I used to oil paint quite a lot and I can sort of relate to getting lost in it. Nothing like the artist in Layers of course but perhaps it gave me a way to relate to the subject at hand.

This title is another one of those very rare and wonderful times where Steam's Early Access program wasn't a dismal failure. If you're into horror games you'll most likely enjoy this one. Layers is a title that puts you squarely in the shoes of a psycologically flawed individual and brings real discomfort and uneasiness through sound and vision. My play through took about five hours, but I imagine one could probably rush through in around four. And I'll say that even though I'm not usually a fan of short titles, Layers of Fear being longer would likely remove fear from the equation since you'd be so used to it's methods that it would become boring. It's $19.99 and fully released on Steam.paintwalls

System requirements for Layers of Fear are as follows

Windows

MINIMUM:
OS: Windows 7
Processor: Intel Core2 Quad Q8400
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 1GB / Radeon R7 250X 1GB
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 5 GB available space
Additional Notes: Supported Gamepads: Microsoft Xbox 360 Games for Windows (Wired), Microsoft Xbox One Controller (Wired), Sony PS4 DualShock 4 controller (wired), Steam Controller

Mac

MINIMUM:
OS: OS X 10.10 or 10.11
Processor: 2.3GHz Intel Core i5
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB VRAM / Nvidia GeForce 750M / Intel HD 6100
Storage: 5 GB available space
Additional Notes: Supported Gamepads: Xbox 360 for Windows controller (wired) and the Xbox One controller (wired)

SteamOS +Linux

MINIMUM:
OS: Steam OS, Ubuntu 14.04 and 15.10
Processor: Intel Core i5 3470
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB
Storage: 5 GB available space
Additional Notes: Supported Gamepads: Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller for Windows (Wired), Steam Controller

My Own System Specs

Processor: AMD FX-8370 8 core
RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengeance at 1600 MHZ
Graphics: AMD/XFX R9-280X with 3GB VRAM