Horror is about more than pairing startling noises with disturbing images, but most filmmakers and developers of experiences designated thusly don't seem to understand that. Scores of PG-13 rated heart attack simulators are released every year, bringing in legions of high-schoolers and reinforcing that ignorance. While several horror-themed video games feature excellent gameplay, interesting stories, and impeccable production values, most of them are not particularly scary. Real horror is subtle, designed to turn our most primal fears against us. It's the difference between The Blair Witch Project
. Layers of Fear
is a graduate of the Frictional Games school of horror games. It implants an idea from the outset and allows it to take root, infecting your subconscious and instilling a deep sense of unease that remains even after the credits roll.
Layers of Fear isn't the most visually stunning or stable gaming experience. Slowdown can happen at any time and for seemingly no reason. But there's also very little light; a design decision that increases tension by sticking to the old adage that what you can't see is far scarier than what you can. The setting of Layers of Fear feels not only like it's been lived in by actual people, but that it's seen unspeakable horrors, as well...
Austerity is how Layers of Fear gets its themes across, at least to your ears. Simple melodies and sound effects accompany your twisted journey and do a fine job of staying out of the way of the scares. It really helps when musical stings and loud noises are kept to a minimum in games like these; the scares are always far more effective when they are left to the mind to piece together. Thankfully, they are.