Being a huge fan of horror games, I absolutely had to pick up Layers of Fear. Described as a “psychedelic horror”, you play a painter who is feverishly attempting to complete a true masterpiece while going mad in the process. Having watched several streams and videos, I knew I would enjoy it.
I wanted to share with you guys my first impressions of Layers of Fear, in the form of a review of all of the currently playable preview.
I’ve seen many reviews or videos start out by describing how nothing seems particularly out of the ordinary as you start the game, but I disagree. The game opens with a monologue of a very angry, pained man who is striving to “take back what life took from him”. This speech ends with a quote from Oscar Wilde that, after playing through the game (or what is currently available of it) is particularly poignant:
“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”
Atmospherically, Layers of Fear is astounding from the moment you enter the house you will be exploring. Rain is falling heavily outside, with occasional bursts of thunder crackling behind you. The entire game is influenced by art and décor from previous centuries, particularly the architecture and design of the 19th century, and the visuals are very well tied together with this theme.
What Layers of Fear does well
The biggest impact Layers of Fear had on me was its ability to disturb me through confusion and messing with your expectations. Without spoiling the game — because I really do feel that the experiences need to be had first-hand in order to be appreciated fully — there were several scenes where the game completely messed with my perception, by putting things where they shouldn’t be, moving something around, or making me feel like I was stuck in a loop until I did something to break the cycle. This was incredibly well done and had my mind reeling, especially when I was already in a nervous headspace due to the jumpscares the game kept throwing at me.
I also appreciated that there was no specific villain you were trying to escape from, for the most part, which meant that the environment was what you needed to fear. That was incredibly refreshing after having to evade multiple enemies, often without a weapon, in the last few horror games I’ve played.
On top of the atmosphere and scare factor, there was an intricate story underneath. Now, I’m not sure if I was just distracted because I was terrified, but I left the preview asking a lot of questions. I initially had thought the painter had been tormented by his wife’s comments towards him, but there seems to be a lot more going on than I thought. I also suspected a deal with the devil type situation when it described how his wife’s critics reacted with surprise when she was playing well, but from what I’ve seen so far this is yet to be revealed.
What could be improved
One thing that bothered me with the game was that you could open every single drawer and cupboard in the house, but they rarely had anything in them that you could interact with. It felt like I spent an awful lot of time opening cupboards and pulling out drawers to check them on the off-chance that they might have a piece of story content inside. This ended up feeling a bit like the gameplay was padded with an unnecessary time investment, which I think could’ve been avoided.
The scares are a little cliché, which I’ve seen some players complain about, as a lot of them are jumpscares and the game itself is quite linear, but I’d argue that this adds to its charm. Sometimes, a horror game can be overcomplicated with intricate puzzles and, when you’re already jumpy and confused because you’re not thinking straight from the fear, having to navigate winding corridors and solve complex problems to progress, it can break the immersiveness that I feel Layers of Fear has managed to craft. That’s not to say they couldn’t improve upon this, but I didn’t feel like the “cliché” nature of some of the scares took anything away from the game.
Should you play it?
Now that you’ve read my Layers of Fear first impressions review, should you pick it up and play it?
I’d recommend the game to anyone who enjoys horror games as a genre, particularly if you don’t mind games where you can’t defend yourself and it’s all about you, the antagonist, and the spooky atmosphere. Keep in mind that it is in Early Access, so you won’t be able to play through the whole game just yet, but what is available to play is deeply engaging, if in need of a little polish here and there.
Don’t pick it up if you’re not into horror or being easily scared (and, more importantly, enjoy being frightened!) The game relies heavily on its ability to set you on edge, so if you’re the type with nerves of steel you likely won’t get too much out of it. To horror fans, however? I wholeheartedly recommend Layers of Fear to you!
Do remember, however, the game is not yet complete, nor is it playable to the end. There are some minor bugs, some polish needed, and a few spelling errors here and there. Bear this in mind before you decide to buy. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was painfully disappointed when I realised it was only a preview, because I wanted to continue!