Have you ever been in a spooky old house, your head clouded with the fear that the paintings are watching you? Well, in Layers of Fear, they are. Literally. And it’s bloody terrifying.
The horror genre has had something of a re-awakening in the last year or so. Everybody knows it, and everybody knows we have P.T. to thank for it. Layers of Fear is a game releasing through a successful Kickstarter project that saw it first on Steam Greenlight, and now across the board on February 16.
It’s perfectly safe to address the P.T. sized elephant in the room with Layers of Fear – after all, the similarities are striking. Hyper-realistic setting? Check. Mind-bending corridors? Check. Slow, suspenseful horror that makes you not want to move? Double check.
We recently spoke to Rafal Basaj – one of the developers on Layers of Fear – who believes horror fans have been waiting for “a horror where the tension isn’t built by the threat of dying, but by the atmosphere of dread and of the unknown.” In this field, Layers of Fear excels.
The story is deliberately vague – you are a painter in the early 20th century being driven mad by the thought of completing your masterpiece. There’s also hints about a fire, your wife and child, and a mysterious limp that dogs you throughout. The clues are scattered around, hidden in various nooks and crannies, and paint a pretty bleak picture (sorry). You don’t have to find them all to progress, but it’s worth spending a little bit of time searching for a background on what’s going on.
In my initial playthrough, I immediately felt a sense of unease surrounding me in the creaky Victorian mansion that serves as the game’s setting. It plays into a seemingly primal fear of old houses, decked out in oil-paintings of stern looking men and forlorn young women. The game is built around this scenario, and it excels at it from the get-go. The house feels like a character in its own right, alive and aware that you’re in there, and that you’re shit-scared. Almost from the start you’re trained to never know what’s behind each door, as rooms appear and reappear with slight differences, helping to create a genuine sense of unease.
Being a horror game, Layers of Fear does unfortunately tend to lean on the piano keyboard slightly too often. Most of the scares here will come from orchestral stabs and an object you didn’t expect to see, sneaking up behind you. The generic jumpscares are thankfully offset by the fact that they almost always catch you off guard. You can walk through multiple rooms without incident only to jump out of your skin when you least expect it.
That’s not to say that all Layers of Fear‘s spooks come through cheap thrills. Taking guidance from P.T. affords it an element of psychological horror that is sorely missed in many similar titles. You know you have to open that door ahead to progress, but you also know that no part of your being wants to open it because monsters.
Playing through the game genuinely feels like a descent into madness. You’ll learn to take special notice of your peripherals, not to trust your environments and to expect the unexpected at every turn. To that end, Layers of Fear could hardly be a more fitting study in how to do the genre justice.
Layers of Fear will be coming to PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on February 16 for £9.99