With the advent of the commoditized game engine, predominantly Unity, we’re seeing more and more “walking simulator” type games arrive on market. The Witness (which, to be fair is a home grown engine), Firewatch, and most recently Layers of Fear all present unique twists on this genre. While The Witness focuses on line puzzles (so many damn line puzzles) and Firewatch presents a fairly interesting storyline, Layers of Fear aims to scare you. Well, let’s get this out of the way first, Layers of Fear is not a particularly scary game, though it does present some of the best sleight of hand trickery we’ve seen outside of LA’s Magic Castle.
Layers of Fear doesn’t spend too much time focused on exposition. You start the game in a creepy 19th century mansion with the simple but innocuous task of completing a painting that is for some reason incredibly important to you. The game unfolds as you wander through the house looking for random items that inspire you to finish the work. But as you leave the art room expecting to hit the foyer but instead wind up in a hallway that wasn’t there a second ago, you’ll start to realize how much this game has up its sleeve.
Without spoiling much, the surprises this game has to offer are well done. Absent of any significant loading times, rooms and pathways almost seem to shift and contort any time your back is turned without any significant warning. You’ll learn to distrust the house, hitting a dead end leads to a moment of trepidation, “what exactly is going to be waiting for me when I turn around?” A blinking porch light outside a window would distract us as a creature would silently enter the room behind us. It’s consistently unsettling and the shifting, unpredictable prison of this house reminded us a lot of the excellent House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski.
The game does have its quirks though. Most notably, for a horror game it’s just not that scary (save for a couple of jump scares). This is a subjective criticism and others may respond differently, but as it’s fairly hard to die in the game, there’s no interaction from you to really survive other than not to wander into certain danger, and there’s no real penalty to dying, it doesn’t try to scare you the way games like Outlast, Silent Hill, or Soma do. Second, the game’s story isn’t told very well. Like Gone Home, you’re left to piece together the narrative from scraps of paper you can find throughout the house however it’s very easy to overlook things leaving uncertain as to why you should be scared of certain characters you’ll encounter.
Finally, the game has an unacceptable amount of bugs still. We played the PS4 version and experienced two game breaking bugs, one of which actually kicked us completely out of the game during a share play session. Occasionally some rooms won’t function properly unless you reload – one glaring example for us occurred towards the end of the game when we’d enter a phone number code over and over again to no avail but upon physically restarting the console it suddenly worked. This game probably should still be in QA a bit longer before hitting digital shelves.
What works well: We’ve never played a game that made us weary of the environment quite as much as this. Each room likely has a novel trick to play on your and nearly all of them are impressive to see.
What doesn’t work: The game isn’t ready for primetime due to some game breaking bugs. Also, it’s one-and-done experience.
Good But Skippable
It’s repeatedly surprising and more enjoyable than it should be, but some major bugs and limited replay value keep this title from getting a better score.
- You Should Buy It – Not to be missed, grab it now at any cost!
- You Oughta Rent It – If you got money to burn, go for it, otherwise seek ye a Redbox
- Good But Skippable – A quality title but not unique enough to merit your hard earned dollars
- Fun For a While – Buyer beware, this game may disappoint you
- Not Worth Your Time – Oh dear God how does this thing exist?
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