Layers of Fear is described by developers Bloober Team as a “psychological and psychedelic adventure horror game”; and I don’t think I could put it any better myself. The player follows the footsteps of a nameless artist gradually losing his grip on sanity as he embarks on a surprisingly troublesome venture to complete his Magnum Opus, dropping hints on his own character and revealing secrets about his past along the way in a beautiful, but severely twisted, early-20th century mansion.

Amidst the various categorizations Bloober Team filed Layers of Fear under, I feel “psychedelic” is the most exciting. In the spirit of P.T., the player must navigate the artist’s labyrinthian home, completely lost amidst a series of constantly changing corridors. As the game progresses, laws of physics are defied as hallways twist and convulse into infinite tunnels of darkness, adorned by a series of often unpleasant paintings.

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Needless to say that Layers of Fear isn’t the most subtle horror title I’ve played. But, my favourite aspects of the game were found in those exact unsubtle experiences, such as running from a dark, looming corridor into a warmly lit kitchen, which (after a few laps of the cooker) twists and darkens with menace before spitting an assault of vegetables at the player from the bubbling acrylic of a portrait depicting some humble fruits and veggies. It’s absolutely ridiculous, potentially symbolic of some Freudian desire to eat your five a day, but it also perfectly executes its task of derailing the player and lulling them in and out of a synthetic sense of security, creating a genuinely killer atmosphere.

But, as I mentioned earlier, Layers of Fear is amidst one of the many odes to P.T. in the wake of its abrupt cancellation (thanks, Konami) and isn’t very subtle about it. If you strip away the significantly more excessive encounters, Layers of Fear doesn’t seem to fully blossom as a product independent of it’s inspiration. One of my biggest eye-rolling moments was when I jogged past a sofa, which had “Running in circles” written on its seat in a dirty brown font, strongly resemblant of Chiller – which you can find by quickly booting up Microsoft Word. I felt as though the game often had to explain itself to me when no explanation was necessary, breaking the otherwise thick and consistent atmosphere with written reminders of what the player can experience for themselves that felt as overly-informative and blatant as the introduction to this review.

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I felt as though there were two different layers of horror that Layers of Fear was trying to go for (har har har); one a more subtle, atmosphere based horror found in the excessive environment shifts, and another more abrasive horror reliant on the player’s moral shock. I adored the subtle horror and think that Bloober Team crafted Layers of Fear’s atmosphere masterfully, but the more abrasive and “shocking” horror I felt brought the experience down a little. When hearing a quite in-depth description about the protagonist flaying skin in an attempt to gather resources for a taxidermic canvas, my eyes almost rolled out of my head and onto the floor. I felt that the game was constantly shifting between implying horror and dictating it, having me switch between fright and boredom once every five minutes. Perhaps that was what was intended to enhance the sense of labyrinthian confusion, but for some reason I doubt it.

And as you progress through the game, however, this more subtle horror seems to reach it’s climax, replaced with a notably repetitive loop of scares (in the order of build-up, bait and spook) which begins to feel tired very quickly. With little motivation to find out what, exactly, went on in the painters’ grand mansion, the only remaining progressive element of of the abrasive, “shocking” horror grows drier and even more boring than it was to begin with.

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The reason that I chose to describe Layers of Fear as “psychedelic” rather than a “psychological horror” was out of optimism. I went into this game hoping for more of a focus on the excessive surreality rather than a focus on dried out horror tropes, but unfortunately wish was not granted. Either way, Layers of Fear isn’t altogether unplayable, and I’d give it a recommendation to all those that loved the promise of P.T. and would like to play a game based in a similar, mind-bending environment, grounded by familiar characteristics of horror that we’re all by now all too familiar with.

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Peter quite likes playing games, and quite likes writing. On IndieHaven, he has found a way to do both at the same time.

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