In these quarantine days, I rediscovered several good horror titles. I have a lot of time to play… and this is good for me!
Today I’m going to speak about another videogame.
So, without further ado.. let my review begin!
Layers of Fear is a psychedelic horror videogame (but also a psychological horror) published by Bloober Team in February 2016, after a trial period in 2015. It is the first episode of a trilogy which also includes Layers of fear: Inheritance and Layers of fear: Legacy.
1920, United States.
The protagonist returns home after a court hearing. The house seems empty and, when he enters his studio, we realize he is a painter. He applies the first layer of paint on his masterpiece, the “magnum opum”, and it is precisely at that moment that our descent into his memories begins, in the form of hallucinations full of terror, regret and guilt.
During this journey, we understand that the main character is a talented artist who married his muse and had a daughter with her. He soon found himself having to deal with the lack of inspiration and he descended into alcoholism. He killed the house dog, which he believed had been infected by rats.
His visions were macabre and gruesome, so much so that even the most innocent work (such as the illustrations of Little Red Riding Hood) became the reflection of his troubled mind. This led him to isolation.
The wife, worried about her husband condition, set fire to his canvas and to what he considered his masterpiece, “The Lady in Black”. She left him and went away with the daughter. But, soon, a terrible fire hurt her, leaving her disfigured and disabled. The artist took her home to look after her and his daughter. However, his dedication was short-lived and he plunged again into alcoholism.
So, the exasperated wife committed suicide.
It seems that the artist went crazy and that his wife’s body (cut into six pieces) was used for the purpose of painting the final masterpiece.
In this videogame there are different paths to take: each choice will lead us to one of the three possible endings. Guilt, regret or selfishness?
Layers of Fear is an exploration adventure in first-person view. The controls are very simple and there is no cursor (it appears only when you look at the objects with which you can interact), so that the attention is not diverted from the atmosphere.
In fact, the interactions with the environment are minimal and the path is heavily determined by the story. The player simply moves around the labyrinth that appears in front of him/her and the only way to deduce what might have happened is to read some documents. Bloober Team developed a game which is mainly based on experience, where the objects (very few) that you can use have the only purpose of allowing the access to the next room.
Apparently, the story takes place inside the house, as we understand since the early moments of gaming, but soon the anomalies and distortions in the environment reveal a hallucinatory experience that keeps us trapped, continuing to twist the space towards the obsession of the main character: the painting. We feel stuck inside impossible spaces and perspectives, inside rooms that change suddenly.
The construction of the videogame consists of short sections, quite repetitive, which follow one to another in a very similar way. The five acts composing the game take us deeper and deeper into the protagonist’s mind.
In any case, whatever the path chosen, it will always lead to the studio with the canvas yet to be finished.
This is not a survival horror videogame because there are no enemies and you cannot die. But it isn’t a point and click adventure either, in which, if the plot is consistent, the objectives are well determined and identifiable, showing a rather clear line of action. Layers of Fear is nothing of this.
The editing techniques of images and sounds contribute to increase the dystopia, keeping the level of anxiety in the player high. There are jump scares (of course!), but they’re well-articulated and connected to salient aspects of the plot.
There are some problems with the frame rate at some point; this may be a little annoying, but it doesn’t affect the gaming experience overall.
MY FINAL RATING…
I liked Layers of Fear very much!
Precisely because it is not a “conventional” videogame.
There are no puzzles. There are no real enemies. What matters is the constant experience of claustrophobia, where reality and unreality are two sides of the same coin that merge into a single distorted perception. The result is a journey into madness, in which the environment reflects many themes: obsessions, memories, emotions, moods…
Moreover, very beautiful paintings are inserted in each room explored and they are the leitmotif of the experiences.
The only flaw, in my opinion, is that, during the game, you do not have the perception of being able to determine the path you are taking. Although the possible endings are three, freedom of choice is relative.
Some may argue that the story is nothing new. Of course! However, the way it is narrated is truly inspired: you really feel trapped inside insanity coils.
I admit that Layers of Fear is not a title suitable for everyone, but it is certainly recommended for those who are looking for an experience totally different from the classic horror videogame schemes.
I loved it!
by Alice Colombo
Images from web