247 people found this review helpful
25 people found this review funny
Not Recommended
0.0 hrs last two weeks / 2.7 hrs on record
Posted: Oct 18, 2017 @ 8:25am

My five-year-old daughter likes to scare me occasionally, sneaking into my room while I’m busy brushing my teeth and screaming as loud as her distressingly-powerful lungs will let her. It’s jarring and unpleasant but I laugh it off because she’s just trying to be funny, and more importantly she doesn’t do it that often. If she screamed in my face every morning and afternoon and evening it would quickly reach tiresome and cruise straight on to aggravating. My five-year-old daughter understands this, but for some reason the people behind Layers of Fear do not, despite crafting an otherwise beautiful and fascinating game to house their cheap jumpscares.

The game opens with very little explanation, you alone in a palatial Victorian mansion stuffed full of art supplies. It soon becomes clear that you are a painter, a husband, and a father, and these aspects of your life do not coexist peacefully. You are compelled to complete your greatest work, but there are demons pulling at you every step of the way and the further you get in the closer to home they hit. As you battle through the twisted mansion to achieve your goal, the true nature of your painter avatar is made shockingly clear.

In gameplay terms, this is a walking simulator. You wander the halls of your mansion, free to open drawers and cabinets in search of collectibles or rare discoveries like keys, ever onward towards your goal. Every chapter starts in your studio and takes you through a seemingly random assortment of nightmarish halls and chambers. There are points where your path will branch in subtle ways but it always ends in the same place, a dramatic setpiece that reveals key events in your character’s past and supplies him with one of the necessary pieces of his masterpiece.

I don’t use the term “walking simulator” derisively, in fact I rather enjoy these guided tours of nightmare mindscapes. Layers of Fear is near the top of the pile in aesthetic, at least, with an impressive amount of detail on every wall fixture, desk drawer, and pile of rubble. The many halls of the manor are distinct enough to be memorable, and setpieces often use huge numbers of small objects like checkers or books to give locations a tactile, lived-in feel. It’s a wonderfully dreary place topped off with some incredible effects like melting furniture and paint flows that make you feel right at home in a twisted projection of reality.

There’s plenty to marvel at as you explore the vast mansion, but you’ll be scouting around under a permanent air of dread. This is a horror game after all, and all those magical details are designed to make you feel as fraught and threatened as possible. Flickering lights, broken doors, scrabbling in the walls, melting paintings, and darker things still will accost you as you slip further into the madhouse. The atmosphere reaches a number of feverishly oppressive peaks, always capped off with a shock like hurtling books or slamming doors or screaming ghosts.

And honestly, that’s where the game loses me. It doesn’t just lose me, it actively drives me away in a huff because as much as I love the atmosphere, I DESPISE the jumpscares. I’m a jumpy person and I don’t care much for big shocks like screamers, but I’ll tolerate ones in games like SOMA and Oxenfree because they’re infrequent and earned. Layers of Fear, in stark contrast, ends almost every single one of their building spooks with a loud noise and jarring visual. There’s hardly any break between them, as scares usually come only three or four rooms apart. What’s worse is that they’re often telegraphed, too… anytime a door locks behind you or the next one doesn’t open immediately, you’re in Scarytown for the duration.

Combined with the ultimately linear nature of the game, this sucks a ton of the fun out of an otherwise promising horror game and turns it into a cheap carnival ride. Walk 10 steps, watch a screamer. Walk another 20, get books thrown at you. Turn the corner, a window bangs. It becomes utterly perfunctory, yet keeps trying harder and harder to shock you by getting louder and more audacious. By the end Layers of Fear feels like a game that was designed to be moody and atmospheric, and then was harangued endlessly for not being scary enough until it was completely over-tuned. The cheap jumpscares are so much more annoying because they’re not even necessary, yet they persist and fight ever harder to shock you.

That should tell you everything you need to know to decide on this one yourself, but if you’re in the mood for spoilers I’m going to talk about the story a bit. I don’t normally dabble in spoilers but by the end I was so fed up with the main character that I simply couldn’t manage my ire anymore. Your dude is a tortured artist who is obsessed with his work, obsessed with professional validation, and obsessed enough to neglect his family to literal death. Ostensibly this is a story about redemption but you’ll soon find he’s so irredeemable that you’ll almost wish his demons would just kill him. I actually did that in the later chapters where his dead wife is wandering around, I would run him right into her cold, fatal embrace because after everything I had seen and heard from him he deserved nothing more. Seriously, to complete his masterwork he’s searching for pieces of his family, tanned skin and blood vials and an actual eyeball, to paint with. The man turned his wife and daughter into art supplies and we’re supposed to believe his soul can be saved? Really?

Ultimately, Layers of Fear is a horror game with an incredibly promising base and a painfully inept structure built upon it. The technology and artistry on display is undeniable, the game looks amazing and has a talent for surprising and impressing. But instead of using that talent to build a compelling story and atmosphere, the game settles for cheap, mindless scares and a story that simply doesn’t work. I won’t deny that I enjoyed admiring the squalor of the mansion and rifling through dressers for clues, but the knowledge that another dumb room with a dumb screaming scare was coming up always filled me with the wrong kind of dread. When I finished the game I felt such relief, not at the conclusion of a compelling story or at the accomplishment of a goal, but at the fact that I would never have to play this wretched thing again.

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Dylan Apr 15 @ 6:12am 
Jex Apr 15 @ 5:04am 
@Emerald The writing is good but parts of the review are objectively wrong (the story and ending) and the reviewer acted like the main character was a conduit for himself so his decision to run into death out of spite probably lead to him getting a certain ending which he used to justify his incorrect synopsis about the "redemption story" which in reality is only one perspective out of three. And if jumpscares are telegraphed as the reviewer complained about then wouldn't they just be scares? I hate cheap jumpscares too but the paranoia is meant to make you feel what the main character is feeling and I ended up "enjoying" them because they added to the immersion. But it is fair not to recommend LoF if you hate jumpscares.
Emerald Oct 6, 2019 @ 6:31pm 
Lol imagine rating this review as funny and complaining because of the amount of jumpscares and claiming there isn't just so people waste their money on the game and saying to not listen to this guy. Audish is really trust-worthy and atleast he isn't IGN (pOkEmOn RuBy HaS tOo MuCh WaTeR aNd AlIeN iSoLaTiOn Is ToO dIfFiCuLt)
MrTennek Jun 5, 2018 @ 8:21pm 
Excellent review. Sums up my feelings pretty much perfectly. This game is nothing but a big old waste of potential.
Mr. Gilly Mar 3, 2018 @ 2:07pm 
This is a fantastically written review and I couldn't agree more. I stopped playing about 75% of the way through out of sheer boredom and predictability. My bias also comes from my lack of interest in walking simulators. Without a fear of death or some oppresive force hunting you down, the fear aspect of a game like this is totally lost.
airespenilla Nov 13, 2017 @ 4:51am 
So you wouldnt recommend this cuz your spooked ass is too scared to play it? wtf
CanBean4U Nov 11, 2017 @ 9:48pm 
That being said, I didn't hate the game. I actually think that there are some qualities that make it worth a playthrough. For instance, the mechanic where you turn around and you are suddenly in a different room is pretty interesting. The transitions are so seamless that it is really good at disorienting the player and contributes to an overall feeling of insanity. I also feel that the amount of detail that went into set-dressing the levels is quite good.

(Comment got a bit longer than expected.... sorry about that)
CanBean4U Nov 11, 2017 @ 9:47pm 
As for the main character, I completely agree. After I figured out what he was doing with the parts, I didn't really care much about him. I just sort of felt bad for the wife and daughter and hoped the protagonist I was playing would end up dying. I think the main problem with how they did his story was the fact that we didn't really get to know what his character was like before he went insane. All we got is, "I'm a painter... I paint things!" and then suddenly he is saying stuff like, "I needed her finger to add a finishing touch to my painting... so I cut it off!!!" That progression is too sudden and his descent into madness is not really told well. Therefore, it is impossible to sympathize with this guy since we never really got to know him when he was at his best.
CanBean4U Nov 11, 2017 @ 9:47pm 
I actually don't think there are that many jump scares in the game. At least not as many as a lot of other horror games out there. As for all the other points.... those are all valid.

I would also like to add that there are definitely some pacing issues that come up due to the way levels are set up. Some of the "puzzles" were also just not very clear and the game became a lot less scary when I had to run search the same room over and over again to figure out what I am supposed to do for 5-10 minutes. There were several points where items that were necessarry to progress were completely concealed by darkness and the only reason I found them was because after a few minutes of searching, I got irritated and just started running around clicking randomly on everything.
Berq Nov 11, 2017 @ 3:42am 
Best writing I've seen in a Steam review. Well done, old chap.