Layers of Fear is a prime example of the modern horror game. I'm not talking the shitty modern horror games like Resident Evil 6, Five Nights at Freddie's, or Silent Hill: Homecoming. I mean good horror. As third person action has gotten better, it's become harder and harder to make a good third person horror game without having it devolve into a third person shooter with slightly creepy enemies (like the cardinal sin of the series IMO, Resident Evil 5). Layers of Fear, like Until Dawn, proves that what third person shooters were for horror in the 90s and early 2000s, walking simulators are for horror in the 2010s.
At it's core, that's what Layers of Fear is - a walking sim. There's not combat. There are no enemies. There are no deaths or game over screens. You can "die" in a sense in that you fuck up on a puzzle and get sent back to a "try again" area, but that's about as close as it comes. No, Layers of Fear is about atmosphere and tension, not difficulty through enemy toughness or ammo scarcity like the old Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. Not to say that doing a horror game like that is a bad thing; it's not, and as Dead Space (until 3) proved, it can still work in modern horror games. Layers of Fear really takes advantage of the edge that graphical enhancements (and the brilliant Unity engine) offered by the last 20 years of gaming technology. It's not an exceptionally long game - it took me about 3 hours - so completionists out there don't have a ridiculous task to get all three endings.
The very subtle but very creepy multilayered audio tracks, quietly whispering in the background, is used to GREAT effect in this game, and key to that great effect is in its timing. It's not just constantly there like some try-hard games I've played. It's used in specific instances, and that really maximizes its effect; you don't hear it enough to "get used to it." Jump scares are used in a similar fashion. Jump scares have gotten a bad rap because of how poorly implemented and overused they've gotten in horror games, but Layers of Fear does them right for the most part. They're not used ad nauseam. They're overused just a little - I could start to tell when one was likely about halfway through the game - but while they're frequent enough that you can start to predict them, the execution is still good enough that you're probably going jump even when you know it's coming.
The basic premise of the game is that you're a painter. Over time as you go through the game, you learn that you've fallen from popularity with the public (we're talking Archduchess Cordelia in southern Gallia after she revealed she's a Darksen or the Dixie Chicks in the South after criticizing President Bush level of "fallen from popularity") and that your marriage with your wife is...less than happy.
If I had to describe this game in one word, it would be "mind-fuck." That's basically what it is. It's a complete and total mind-fuck of a game; once it gets going, that train has ZERO brakes. The truly brilliant aspect of the game's pacing is how it paces the insanity of the protagonist. It starts off "Okay, I'm in this creepy house. Things are a bit unsettling." Slowly, it turns to "Huh...That's a little paranormal. But this is a horror game, so that's not out of the ordinary." Next thing you, it's "SWEET BABY CHRIST, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK IS GOING ON?!?" It's great, trust me.
Now I scare more easily than most guys, and I LOVE being scared (it's why I love horror movies and games), so I'm good at "getting into a game" and letting myself get scared by things that might not otherwise scare me, so it's possible that - like Until Dawn - I'm giving this game's horror elements a little too much credit, but I really did get my money's worth out of this game in the scare department. My roommate can attest - there were not infrequent shrieks coming out of my bedroom when a jump scare got me good. This game isn't going to be for everyone - you have to like walking sims to really enjoy this one - but if you're a fan of atmospheric horror games, I cannot recommend this one highly enough. It's on PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One, so chances are, everyone here can play it on one platform or another. I urge you to do so. Learn some art history while you're at it; they actually feature what is probably the most famous painting by Jan van Eyck, the premier Flemish Renaissance painter.
Also, baby dolls are the creepiest fucking things on the planet. I'm thoroughly convinced of this.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.