The Commitment to a Canvas
Dark, dimly lit rooms. Blinding flashes of lightning and booming thunder. Tiny shadows darting across the splintering wooden floor out of the corner of your eye. The mass of paint smeared against the walls and locked doors. Layers of Fear has all of those wonderful components to make you feel like you’re home. Alone. But… Are you?
With a first person perspective and an extremely detailed exploration sense, Layers of Fear draws from the base of one’s curiosity and desire to find all the connections. In this game, you play as a disturbed and once renowned artist trying to complete his masterpiece. Throughout the game, you discover what drove his mind into madness and rather unnerving secrets about the painter and his family. The intense, almost uncomfortable story-line makes the multitude of jumps scares more personal and frankly, a lot more terrifying.
Of course, having a first person view of the crumbling world around you is always terrifying. In the world of Layers of Fear, you solve puzzles mainly by opening and searching contents of drawers, cabinets, and other features. The controls are simple, and if you suffer from O.C.D like myself, you’ll want to open every thing. There are six chapters in this title, and each chapter you advance, the Victorian style mansion you find yourself in continues to seem more destroyed, askew, to the point you feel as if you are in the character’s own mind. The camera movement of your character’s actions adds an eerie and personal touch. One that really welds your experience and the characters as one. It wouldn’t be a horror game without it. One particular and beautiful feature this game uses, is the character’s gate. It closely resembles that of a heartbeat. If that isn’t frightening, I have no clue what is.
“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali
The game released in 2016, and the gritty graphics do more than set the mood. The use of shading as the flash of lightning strikes the room or flicking candle light does more than heighten the senses; and as you venture along the ever ruined home, the sense of insanity thickens. Though, being a 2016 title, the graphics of idle and stationary items could have used a bit more detail. But, who thinks about that while trying to figure out where the crying is coming from? Even though very few of the jump scares were predictable; I still found my face buried half-way into a blanket, and my ears pulsing as my heart felt it were to burst at any moment.
The developers at Bloober Team (creators of Basement Crawl ) had a better outcome with this game than others they have developed. Although still receiving mixed reviews and results, Bloober Team, along with the ever-expanding Unity engine created a magnum opus of grim and dark realism into madness. Something that goes beyond personal understanding is so easily objectified and described through a scary and dark sequential perspective; and they do extremely well portraying what it truly feels like when you’re committed. Deeply.
The soundtrack, short and yet simple, definitely carries the player through a world full of uncertainty. Arkadiusz Reikowski composes well-rounded pieces that completes the process of narration that is Layers of Fear. It brushes your adrenaline and helps mold your own psyche into that which is the main character. Suspenseful and positively easy on the ears, it’s difficult for any soundtrack to a horror game to be simple and yet demanding of your attention; and I believe this soundtrack has accomplished this. Nothing says horror like solemn piano and woman sobbing. They did extremely well balancing soft and subtlety; all the while grabbing at our instinctual fears.
Layers of Fear beckons to our imagination, it calls on our balance of hesitancy and itching wish to find, and to achieve. There was a bit of excitement in every turn and discovery; and coming from a creative and artistic background, I found myself taking a break to admire the artworks that hung-sometimes crooked against the walls. Most of them were recognizable, like The Repentant St. Mary Magdalene pictured left, or Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco de Goya. I would quiz myself on the artist, and the title of said painting while the world around me became more ruined. The genre and category of each painting corresponded beautifully to the game’s emotion and macabre setting.
I give this title a 9/10. The composure of creativity and madness balances out the nit-picking of a few pixels. It’s so deeply story driven and grips you at the basis of emotional needs. With multiple endings at its side, the replay value is tantalizing to say the least. For a short time, Layers of Fear is available in the Xbox gold store for free as one of March’s Xbox gold deals.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab it today and paint your own picture!