A chillingly beautiful experience, albeit lacking in plot and playability

User Rating: 6 | Layers of Fear (2015) (Early Access) PC

If you're a big believer that playability is everything and you remain unimpressed by groundbreaking graphics, then this is not for you. To be honest, it's not really a game. It's more of an explorable environment. There is no shooting, stealth, fighting and there are no puzzles or challenges...unless of course you have a phobia of anything horror or supernatural, in which case you have a challenge getting to the end of this game. It really is that intense!

So let's talk about the main selling point of this game - the breathtaking and spine tingling environments. I can say with no exaggeration that this is the most impressive and the most chilling horror environment I've ever seen in a game. The painstaking attention to detail and the massive variation of effects and twists will keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what lurks around the next corner. Although the entire game takes place within the same mansion environment, you will be surprised just how much each room differs from the last.

The horror elements are created in a masterful way, with the right amount of subtlety to keep the hairs on the back of your neck standing upright. The game keeps tacky gore and violence to a bare minimum and the events are within the boundaries of believability, which makes it so much more immersive and frightening. You can expect a few jump scares along the way, but they're kept to a reasonable number, just enough to keep your pulse racing.

In terms of visual horror and as an artistic experience, Layers of Fear is a genuine masterpiece! It's dark, gritty and disturbing, yet somehow manages to be beautiful at the same time. I found myself stopping at regular intervals just to take in the atmosphere of my surroundings and marvel at the compositions.

The game environment is vast, yet it always keeps you on track and nudges you in the right direction so you don't get lost and yet you won't feel like you're being cheated out of exploration because that is the entire theme of the game as it takes you on a long spiral into the protagonists psyche.

Ok, so why am I giving it a mere 6 out of 10? Well, it certainly loses points for its lack of playability. After all, you aren't really doing anything except move in the right directions, observe the environments and very occasionally you have to type in a code. The other aspect of the game I found to be a let down was its plot.

The plot is very much a cliched descent into madness ordeal, which we have all seen or read many times over. It doesn't take a genius to figure out where it's going and it really lacks any exposition or cut scenes that put you into the role of the characters. The plot is implied by scraps of paper and hints you find lying around, which isn't the most gripping way to tell a story. What's more, the protagonist is unseen and mostly unheard. You don't get any sense of his fear or his emotions.

In many survival horror games and in most horror movies you tend to have a vulnerable protagonist who is at the mercy of his/her stalkers or the environment. It creates tension and you really feel for that character and their plight to escape the horrors that pursue them. Unfortunately I didn't get any sense of purpose to this character. As far as I'm aware he might be totally at ease the whole time.

I can't help thinking there is so much wasted potential here. Had they spent more time on the plot, characters and gameplay they could have created one of the best survival horror games since Silent Hill 2. As it stands, it feels more like a visual demo.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed playing through it. It's very rare for me to play games for more than 2 hours at a time without a long break between, but I felt so absorbed and so eager to see what was coming next I stuck this out from start until finish. It helps, of course, if you play with the lights out and headphones on...if you dare!