I’m going to get straight to the point. Layers of Fear. Wow. Just… wow.
This first-person psychological horror from Bloober Team, if you didn’t read my first article about the game, puts players in the paint-speckled boots of an artist gone mad. As you wander around his house, trying to piece together the questions behind his waning sanity, everything begins to change and warp around you. You can’t trust anything you see, and even if you do see something, there’s no guarantee that it will still be the same when you look back, whether that be paintings on the wall, furniture, or even a door you just walked through.
Seriously, this game messes with you in the best kind of way. Well, if you love horror, it’s the best. If you only tried the game out because of a keen interest in art, you’re bound to be terrified. I was.
Layers of Fear is still only in Early Access, and the studio actually describe what they have so far as a preview of the full game, with the final narrative and gameplay still subject to change. It only took me about two hours to complete the current version of the game, but it was honestly the most intense, mind-bending, pants-wetting horror experience I’ve been through in recent memory.
Inside the house of the critiqued, maddening artist, nothing remained the same and it was impossible to settle or get my bearings. What had at first been a beautifully kept Victorian manor turned into a twisted maze, in which I was at times afraid to even turn around, knowing that everything was going to have changed again, and not for the better. I loved it.
Whispers kept me looking over my shoulder, paintings seemed to watch my every move (and then often morphed into visions much worse than the occasional cherubic child portrait), and a woman, who I assumed was the painter’s late wife, appeared with a very similar vibe to that of Lisa from PT. In fact, the entire experience seemed to channel the methods of the Silent Hills taster, and brought about a similar level of fear. Sometimes I’d find myself opening a door only to see the exact same room on the other side, and continue doing so until I felt like Alice falling ever-deeper into the rabbit hole. Layers of Fear really could be my wonderland.
Within this wonderland are answers to the madness that has gripped the artist, and apart from the very key items that need to be found to progress the narrative, such as skin, hair and marrow, of course, these are entirely optional. I found as many as I could, and have pieced together what I believe to be the reasoning behind the crazy. If you don’t like hypothetical spoilers about plot, avoid this bit.
Successful artist lives a happy life with his wife and daughter. The wife is badly burned in a factory fire, and the stress of the incident affects their relationship (in a bad way, they didn’t take up baking or anything). Then, due to stress, the artist paints something a little more unusual and disturbing for his next unveiling, where he is ridiculed.
This creates even more stress in their home life, where the artist thinks he is beginning to notice strange behaviour from his wife, who he believes to be suffering from after-effects of the traumatic fire. However, based on the notes from psychologists and the like, a number of which are pestered by the artist for a quick fix to “return his wife,” quite a bit of this strange behaviour may actually be created by his own mind. Sure, his wife was a little traumatised, but that doesn’t explain why the artist is seeing rats where there aren’t any, or why he can only seem to paint gruesome apparitions.
He descends further into madness, intent of painting something that will return his status in the art community, and in turn improve his family life. I’m a little hazy of what happens next, because I think the wife dies, though I’m not entirely sure how. Either she kills herself, or the artist tries to paint his masterpiece using new ‘materials’ – namely, her body parts. Nothing like human skin for a sturdy canvas, as I’ve always said.
On the other hand, it may actually be the body parts of his daughter, who was taken in custody after the death of her mother. The artist, understandably, wasn’t trusted with her care. Then I found a clipping to say that he had kidnapped her from the home where she was being cared for, so who knows which beloved family member ended up helping out with dear old Dad’s masterpiece.
Now, he wanders his manor, completely alone, with only the company of his deteriorating mind and the visions it spews forth.
** END OF SPOILERS **
About halfway through making his masterpiece, using strange, possibly human materials from around the manor, Layers of Fear ended. It was somewhat abrupt, which I could have done without, though I would never have wanted the experience to end so it was probably better to go cold turkey. Which is where I’m at right now. As I write this Early Access review, I’m sitting at my laptop, shaking, wishing I could get just one more hit of Bloober Team’s horror. It is essentially horror cocaine.
If that doesn’t tell you just how much I loved Layers of Fear, nothing will. I can’t really fault the game so far, and while I wish it was a little further in its development (mainly because I’m so ready to play more), I’m happy to wait if it means that the studio provides a finished game that is as wonderfully terrifying as the first two hours were.
Honestly, I’m not even sure what you’re still doing here. You can purchase the game on Steam right now, and you really should, because there’s a masterpiece to finish. In fact, Bloober Team may just be doing the exact same thing with Layers of Fear.