Layers of Fear
When P.T. was released on the PSN store in 2014, it completely re-invented the horror game genre.
Here was a first person psychological horror game that planted you in an ordinary setting (the corridor of a house) and made you experience extraordinary things. As the player progresses from one end of the looping corridor to the other, they must trigger certain events and solve cryptic puzzles in order to further the story and change the constant surroundings, the only interaction being walking and zooming. Upon completion, it was revealed that this was a Playable Teaser (P.T.) for Silent Hills, a game directed by Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid), Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Blade 2) and starring Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead).
Criminally, Silent Hills was cancelled and Konami removed P.T. from the PSN store leaving eager gamers devastated as to what could have been. It was a genuine, grown up horror game; terrifying, uncompromising and disturbing. Two years later and we have Layers Of Fear. It takes the same basic blueprint of P.T. – first person psychological horror, ordinary setting, extraordinary events, cryptic puzzles but puts its own unique spin on it.
You play as a painter who has returned to his Victorian mansion to complete his masterpiece. To do this, you must explore the mansion and collect certain “objects” to help you build up and finish the layers that make up the painting. Retrieving these “objects” though is not as straight forward as you would hope as traversing the mansion becomes a nightmarish and confusing experience. Along the way, you can pick up letters, scraps of paper, drawings, photographs and other objects which uncover more of the story and the history of the painter of whom you play.
Overall, Layers Of Fear comes close to topping P.T. with the limited interaction and initial air of the ordinary surrounding a perfect match for it. There is something about only being able to walk, open a door, pick up an object and zoom in to your surroundings that works perfectly in a horror game. The feeling of helplessness, vulnerability and realism is outstanding with the constant unnerving feeling there from start to finish.
Being able to figure out the story through everyday household objects and scraps of paper keeps you engaged and committed, the more you explore and find, the deeper the characters become. It took me about six hours to complete the game which was a good mix of focusing on the main task at hand and actively searching for things that would educate my understanding of the story. There were doors I didn’t open, combination locks I didn’t solve and an Ouija board I decided to leave well and truly alone.
Where Layers Of Fear betters P.T. though, is in its art. The mansion is full of paintings, mainly portraits, that adorn the hallways and rooms you explore. But these paintings are more than just canvas and colour; they are alive. Graphically the game is truly stunning, especially when warping into a nightmare version of itself. Paint smears the walls and floor and dark spears protrude from the wood whilst lighting and decay effects add to the madness of it all.
The music is eerie, the voiceover work is powerful and the sound design is effective. Played with the lights off, the surround sound loud and on the PS4 (with the added speaker on the controller adding even more terror to proceedings) is a truly frightening experience.
Where the game fall however are occasionally it can be too dark, a struggle to see where you are going and how you get there. Interaction is so limited that the game could be viewed as nothing more than a walking simulator, albeit a terrifying walking simulator. And as stunning as the graphics are, up close there are issues and there are times when the game jerks and splits unexpectedly. And to be perfectly honest, the jump scares can become a bit predictable and overused towards the conclusion.
In the end though, Layers Of Fear is a haunting, creepy and entertaining game. Any game that physically, and mentally, has me staring at the screen not wanting to turn my character round but knowing that I have to in order to further on the story is worth playing, and, despite the various issues and lack of any real replay value, it was still worth the £15.99 I paid for. A worthy successor to P.T.