The name Layers of Fear suggests some kind of depth, but a failure to branch out from the same couple of good ideas it has prevents this short horror game from achieving any level of fright beyond cheap jump scares and an atmosphere built almost entirely out of tired cliches.
To its credit, it’s found an interesting subject in the world of classical painting, and employs inventive visual effects to subvert space and architecture in truly unsettling ways, but it devalues its best moments by abandoning subtlety in favor of excess, letting bland horror tropes fuel its story, and staggering its pacing with unfulfilling puzzle design.
From the earliest moments, Layers of Fear’s brand of Victorian horror feels fully realized: you play as an artist, driven to madness by a creative block that’s made it awfully difficult to complete his masterpiece. It’s a setup that’s brimming with the potential to channel Gothic, Dorian Gray-style dread, and at its highest points, Layers of Fear does illustrate this descent into darkness and anxiety in really interesting ways.
- Play now magic fighting game
Your home becomes a nightmarish, labyrinthine dungeon of impossible architecture. Doorways materialize out of nowhere, new hallways form mid-turn, and reminders of the horrible lengths you’ve gone to for your art await around every corner. These effects look great and are pulled off seamlessly, but rather than use this subversion of space to heighten your distrust of your surroundings, Layers of Fear ungracefully over-indulges, repeating the same cool visual tricks until they feel like a gimmick.
Walking through the same predictable hallways just doesn’t make for a scary experience, especially when paired with boring cliches like creepy dolls and angsty wall scribbles. It isn’t even a problem that Layers of Fear features traditional horror tropes to begin with – the bigger issue is that it doesn’t bother to play around with these elements or repackage them as something fresh. Creepy dolls and “messed up” kid’s drawings serve as cheap ornamentation for a setting that doesn’t really need it. Is crayon art of a burning forest scarier than going on a hallucinatory nightmare trip through a living house that’s constantly changing its layout to bring your past misdeeds to light? I’d say no, especially not when the last part lacks the depth to stand on its own. The “disturbing” crayon doodles are just pointless.
Layers of Fear also tends to telegraph its jump scares, like a poorly designed walk-through haunted house. At no point did I feel the need to look over my shoulder or peer cautiously around a corner – the on-rails style made it clear that the central scare in each sequence was always going to be in front of me, and if it was going to be behind me, it would let me know first. Without uncertainty or tension informing my every move, the constant wandering through looping hallways turns Layers of Fear into a dull routine. And every time I started to enjoy the flow, it was broken by small puzzle challenges that just aren’t fun to solve.
- Hot new 60 seconds burger run unblocked
One particularly frustrating sequence asks you to collect tiny checkers pieces in a large, dark room, which felt like the three-dimensional equivalent of pixel hunting. Even though the pieces glow to make locating them easier, the search felt more like a chore I needed to trudge through before I could move on to the next area. A better-designed sequence involving a series of hidden telephones at least kept me moving and exploring in an engaging way, but moments like this are extremely rare in Layers of Fear’s short, two to three-hour run.
Layers of Fear lacks the surprises and subtlety needed to keep things interesting all the way through. It makes a strong first impression, but quickly exhausts its best ideas, making it hard for them to really shine as scary or meaningful moments. It’s hard to be terrified when you can see what’s coming at the end of every long dark hallway.