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Layers of Fear

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Bloober Team
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure/ Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:

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 and Ouija. 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.


I want to spoil as little of Layers of Fear as possible, but to properly explain it, I have to draw a comparison to explains the premise. You see, it's basically The Shining in video game form. You play as an artist whose marbles are as lost as the crew of Oceanic 815. And you're all alone in your dimly-lit mansion and studio. Letters, clippings, and other assorted refuse make it abundantly clear that you are in the wake of a vague but horrific personal event. And with your sanity slipping away second by second, it's obviously not going to be one of those peaceful nights, curled up by the fireplace wearing your fez and brushing up on your Chaucer. No. You have to finish your masterpiece...

Layers of Fear is strictly a first-person adventure experience. But before you go off comparing it to Amnesia: The Dark Descent (a valid one in most respects), one key difference sets it apart: you are in no physical danger throughout any of the experience. Your own sanity conspires against you as the mansion seems to follow suit. Hitting a dead end only to turn around and find that everything has changed from the floor to the decorations never fails to make your heart skip, partly because the most of the game's best scares are stealthily delivered with little to no fanfare.


Layers of Fear is one of those games that's expressly designed to be completed. It is an experience of neither length nor challenge. If you've got a keen eye and four to five hours on your hands, you will finish it.

You may miss some things as you explore, and certain areas are blocked off, by locked doors or other obstacles. But everything you need to proceed is somewhere accessible. Just be sure to open everything that can be opened, pay attention to your ever-untrustworthy environment, and keep moving.

Game Mechanics:

Less of a game and more of a dark ride experience, Layers of Fear relies on its exploration rhythms and narrative over its central mechanics, which are limited to simply walking around and manipulating the environment in very specific ways. Opening doors and containers and examining items is handled almost identically to the manner in which Amnesia's physics engine handles these tasks. You directly impact how quickly or slowly you open things, and while it doesn't particularly increase the level of player agency across the experience, it lends a sense of gravity and realism to the proceedings.

Layers of Fear isn't for everyone; its exclusive bent on exploration and atmosphere, while stellar, is at the expense of everything else. It isn't a deep experience as a game, but it certainly is rich as an experience. On top of this, there aren't many games of its kind, and if you're into psychological horror, you'll find a lot to love here.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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