My dedication to reviewing this game is so high, I played the beginning of this game twice already. I’m glad I did, too, and because of it, this first impression review inspired another project about this game. I’ll touch base on that in a bit.
A few of us streamed this game on AYB’s Twitch page this past Friday, and I was going to base my opinion on that – but as luck would have it, you do get a second chance at first impressions sometimes. The important thing to remember about horror games is that most of them are intended get you alone – find you in the dark when you’re most vulnerable, and clasp a hand over your mouth so you don’t scream and wake the neighbours. So, I started from the beginning, venturing into this dark nightmare alone to write an authentic recount of my experience with this game.
And I’m glad I did, because I found many, many haunting discoveries.
So what is Layers of Fear? It’s a horror game that follows a troubled painter’s descent into madness, flanked by memories of a seemingly happier life, and tortured by his modus operandi to create the perfect masterpiece – but that explanation is much too simple.
Gameplay is simple enough: go through doors and navigate the labyrinth that is your house. Things are obviously not as they seem, as every movement changes your surroundings: you will enter a room through a door, only to turn around and find that door isn’t there anymore. The eyes in paintings seem to watch your every move. Messages bleed out from the walls, taunting you to remember things you’ve forgotten.
While that may seem straightforward, the sense of discovery is emphasized in other ways. Throughout this hellish mansion are various clues that something darker is afoot. While some of these clues are essential in continuing past locked rooms and puzzles, some of the optional pieces offer insight into the past life of the painter – some offer happy memories, but many others show misery.
This game has its share of good jump scares, but it also does the opposite incredibly well, too: an insidious feeling of dread and fear that isn’t segregated and sectioned into rooms like many horror games. This sick feeling can creep up on you even in the “safety” of staying in one room. This game plays on your fear, and even after encountering the inevitable jump scare, I still didn’t feel safe from the dread and fear; the game wasn’t just going to let me experience one little scare and let me back down to safety. No, it wasn’t done with me yet.
Let me compare this to another series I love: Silent Hill. Normally, after obliterating every last monster in a hall, I would continue my exploring, testing every broken lock until I found my next door, giving me a few moments of reprieve where I could gather myself. In Layers of Fear, your terror can’t be bashed with a steel pipe or gunned down. No, it follows you down every hallway, into every room, and gazes back at you with every painting you look at.
But why does this game affect me so much? I mean, besides the fact that I’m an artist, so this kind of stuff interests me… You know what really messes me up about this game? All of the artworks it features:
I’ve always had the firm belief that when developers place odd things in games, there’s a damn good reason for it. Bloober Team’s choice of paintings struck a chord with me, and I thought it was best to take screenshots of each strange painting I saw. Bless the day and age of Google Image search, because my reverse image searching yielded surprisingly deep insights into the nature of the game as a result.
Which brings me back to the start of this BASELine: my project. As per usual for AYB Reviews, I plan to finish this game fully, and give my complete thoughts on it, including story, jump scare mechanics, and other notable things. Past this review, I want to write a separate article that talks strictly about the art history and symbolism of all the paintings in this game. What I discovered would be much too long of an article, and is best saved for a special feature.
But I’m excited to see how this game plays out. There’s nothing that thrills me more than a game that makes me think, especially within the bounds of psychological horror.
Stay tuned for my full review! And if you’ve played this game, let me know what you think in the comments below!
Kate is a contributor and a Graphic Designer for AYBOnline, and producer on the Level 1 Scrubs podcast. As she types this, she gazes distrustfully at her own pieces of art behind her. Her opinions are her own. Feel free to follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she posts updates about her creative projects!