I’m always down for a good survival horror game, even more so when it’s something that puts a fun, new twsit on the genre. Layers of Fear is both that as well as a sort of spiritual successor to the ill-fated P.T. (a matter which I will always be a salty Silent Hill fangirl about). None of that is to say that Layers of Fear is some perfect replacement of poor, dear Silent Hills. Layers of Fear is, in fact, its own unique kind of animal. I’ve heard it referred to as a “haunted house simulator,” which is probably the most apt descriptor one could probably give it.
Gameplay & Visuals
So there’s good news, and then there’s bad news. I’ll start with the bad news because seriously, who wants to finish with bad news. Wouldn’t you rather walk away happy?
So bad news! Which really, “bad news” may be a strong way of putting it – it’s more of a cautionary tale. Don’t make the mistake I made and play this on console. Just don’t do it. If you want to play it, pick it up on Steam. This game is definitely made to be played on PC. Had I played it that way, I would perhaps not have to complain now, but I didn’t, so I do.
The controls are annoying. There’s a certain level of precision required when interacting with the environment in LoF, and the ability to have such precision was completely lost since I couldn’t freaking see the stupid cursor. You can choose to hide the cursor (I think they call it “crosshairs” in the menu), or you can leave it on. So first of all, why would I turn it off!? How would I even know what in the hells bells I was doing without it? Second, even with leaving it on, I could only actually see it about 57% of the time (yes, that is an arbitrary statistic, but it’s my best guess). I actually had too check my settings at one point to make sure it was actually turned on because I couldn’t see it at all. So actually, you know what? It probably makes no difference one way or another if you turn it off.
My other huge gripe? The sounds are glitchy to an extreme degree. At least they are on the PS4 version. The game makes use of the speaker on the controller, a mechanic which I have absolutely adored in other games (read: Resident Evil Revelations 2). At first, this was a creepy and nifty way to let me know that there was what is referred to a “memory” in the area (basically an object that progresses the story in some way). Due to the glitchy nature, it devolved into something that made me want to turn the speaker on my controller off completely. I would enter new areas and it would randomly go off for a split second, causing a lot of confusion early on as to whether or not there was a memory in the area that I was missing. On top of that, the stupid noises would not stop when the game either saved or loaded at the beginning and ending of chapters. This resulted in me staring at loading screens or swirly, twirly auto-save icons while a god awful cacophony of sound blared from my controller, which of course there is no mute button on. Those moments were kind of rage-inducing, not gonna lie, especially when I was trying to have conversations with people while loading up the game.
So now, the good news: It’s pretty.
…Yeah… That’s uh… That’s all I got to say on that. It looks really nice. And it never really froze, except, ya know, when autosaving at the end of a chapter or loading. Which wasn’t freezing per say, but more just really long load times.
…Someone remind me why that was supposed to be the good news again?
One more point on gameplay, which can be either good, bad, or completely irrelevant depending on your preference of play style.
So here’s the deal: Like I said, this is a haunted house simulator. There is no combat, and there are no real instances of running from monsters or the like (though there are some moments where you can nope-the-fuck-out of certain encounters, though I would by no means consider it running for your life). Basically, you are walking around, opening doors, and spinning around globes (okay, the spinning globes aren’t an important game mechanic, but I got excited every time I saw one and had way too much fun with them). You interact with objects in the world to progress the story. The scares are still numerous enough and good enough, I think, that even knowing you can’t technically die didn’t make a huge impact on how I reacted to things.
Story, Characters, & Atmosphere
So real talk, the game is pretty scary on its own, but I think what really pushed it into the realm of “What the hell did I just get into” is the story. It’s messed up. Like… super messed up. Like stared at my TV with eyes as wide as saucers at the end of the first (or was it second?) chapter kind of messed up. It just proceeds to get weirder from there. However, the story isn’t really all that coherent. I could give you a spoiler-y, sort of summary if I had to, but I couldn’t give you some in-depth, beat-by-beat explanation, simply because the game doesn’t really provide you with that. The backstory, which is the whole driving point of the kind-of nameless main character, is simply told through snippets of flashbacks of one-sided conversations, letters, and newspaper clippings. Really though, this doesn’t make it bad. They give you enough of the story to get by, and this formula isn’t necessarily that off-path in the survival horror genre anyway.
The game is plenty creepy, featuring several different kinds of scares, which is good. When a game overly relies on jump scares, that gets kind of old. Instead, Layers of Fear gives a nice combo of jump scares, atmospheric tension, and plain ol’ fucked up creepy. All that said, by the end of the game, I was finding myself less and less freaked out, but I think that was more of a personal problem of spoiling the end of the game for myself by watching someone else play and just not having any more energy to devote to being scared.
As for characters, there’s not a whole lot to say. The only characters you actually see/hear are the faceless, nameless player character and the ghosty he encounters through the game. Well, unless you count the voice of the crying baby and barking dog you hear all of twice a piece.
I feel like this review came across pretty negative, which really isn’t the case, because while Layers of Fear can be incredibly flawed, it is also something I had a lot of fun playing. The scares hold up, and there’s enough different choices to make in how you play the game (along with three distinct endings) that I will probably dabble in it again in the future.
If you like horror, or if you’re looking for a P.T. fix until Allison Road, I really recommend Layers of Fear. It’s a pretty fun jaunt of interactive horror without requiring the intense immersion and commitment required in other horror games, and for a $20 price tag, I thought it was worth it.
Just, ya know, don’t get it on console. Trust me on this.