Layers of Fear...is another one of those first person horror games on steam that emerged out of nowhere in a giveaway. I have to admit that it does stand out from other trashy first person horror games on steam in that it was made by a studio and has some skill behind it somewhere. That is not to say that there was no skill put into the game nor is it a bad game per say. Just so many missed opportunities and a lack of originality in terms of scares do bog down the game.
The game tells a story of an unnamed painter returning home after a long day of what is implied to be a court hearing. He then sets out to create his final Magnum Opus to distract himself from some sort of tragedy that again implies involvement from a wife and child at some point. From there the painter falls down a rabbit hole of insanity and memories of the events leading up to the tragedy. It is not as interesting as it sounds, you spend most of the time walking and watching stuff happen with very little in the way of playing involvement, I feel that I am not really controlling a mad painter but more that I am a camera man going through a haunted house ride while being told a story that I do not really have any reason to be invested in because of that disconnect.
Speaking of walking, this game is what people seems to be calling a Walking Simulator a brand of game where conventional game play like combat are removed for a greater focus on storytelling. Games like Doki Doki Literature Club, Pony Island and Stanley Parable are great examples of this because they either have the actions driven by the player or offer deeply compelling narratives with memorable twists and characters. Layers of Fear has the potential to pull these off but I cannot shake off that I am merely a camera man recording the remains of what is a more interesting story, all I did was walk though some rooms of differing degrees of scariness waiting for the jump scare to happen.
Sometimes a simple puzzle needs to be solved and objects can be picked up for some exposition. That is kind of it. There is not even a run button. There is no real villain either. A majority of your time will be spent just from room to room looking at the spooky scary things until the jump scare defuses all tension built and you move onto the next room. I never felt like I was in any danger because for a lack of a better explanation. There was none. There were no killers like in Outlast, no SHODAN equivalent and no Lovecraftian nightmares to beat me into the ground. There was nothing asides from the spooky scary set pieces with predicable jump scares.
I would say that the closest the game gets to being scary would be with the painting, it is the only thing that I would say has some sort of creativity behind it regards to messing with perception and granting me the infrequent truly scary imagery, it is rather disappointing to see that hint of something interesting linging in a game that otherwise has a wide host of horror cliches which include but not limited to:
Squeaking rocking chairs
Sobbing twitching women
Disturbing kids drawings
Fairy tales with gore added in
Children singing creepy nursery rhymes or something similar
Children crying off screen
Static or simlar
Dark stormy nights etc
Then of course the wholesale rip off of PT at a certain part of the game, without the same level of atmosphere and sense of danger PT did so well it comes across as.....a little lazy, it comes and goes with not much flair. Nothing is gained; it feels like a cynical attempt to fill the void PT left with a lot of people including myself.
The graphics are top notch however; I like that Bloober team show the Unity logo at the start of the game, it shows that Unity can make a beautiful game. I do like the way the game uses paints and oils to bring across the dreamlike imagery and links back to the protagonist being an artist in interesting ways.
The game strangely ran really badly on my PC, I encountered stuttering, minor screen tearing and frame rate drops throughout my time with Layers of Fear. I am not sure if it was my computer, even though my PC was strong enough to take it (I made sure of it). I am even more puzzled because none of my friends of youtubers I follow has suffered these types of issues. I don't know if I was unlucky or something else happened.
Layers of Fear suffers from having some interesting but underdeveloped ideas while being overstuffed with needless jump scares and cliches. The premise of an insane painter does have potential but needed nuance. Only recommend this game to someone who wants to get into horror and use this game as a starting point before going onto more intense games.