Walking Simulators. Interactive Dramas. In what seems to be an attempt to paint games as an art these styles of games have risen from the depths to show that gaming is about more than teabagging and camping; providing endless hours of playthroughs on YouTube channels. And for the most part I’m all for it. Playing through Firewatch now for the third time I’m enjoying the depth the game has in such a simple experience; focusing hard on its environment and a dialogue between two people.
And then there is Layers Of Fear.
This can be described simply as a cliché horror, albeit one of the best examples for it I have seen in a while. Yet this is still just a bland experience. Nothing is surprising at all; no new ground is being broken; and nothing instils me with fear.
The foundation of this game is an abusive painter reliving past sins. Seems like a good premise yet this does not do much to bring life to the dull procedure of this game. While the game makes good use of the paint-and-canvas motif, it’s boiled down to little more than a delivery for the cheap gimmicks and thrills of this game.
This game fills the definition of walking simulator/interactive drama. There are a few basic puzzles to solve which will not tax anybody. Besides this there is nothing to differentiate this from games like Dear Ester. This would be no issue if we didn’t have this huge issue:
You. Cannot. Die.
And at this point what little horror left in the game disappears.
Now I’m not saying that there needs to be a failure state. But the game has no truly terrific horrors to give it merit. We’re left on this bus tour of horror with nothing to do but wait for the bathroom breaks.
Not to belittle this game. What it does it does well. Disorientations, perspective skewers, architecture mutation; all of the stable good techniques are there. Yet this are just somewhat lacking behind this open, brash horror which refuses to hide away or even hurt you. You’re left with some rooms feeling like they were built with stock horror assets; dead dolls; slamming doors and ominous strangers.
With this style of horror the key is subtlety. If you keep the true horror just out of sight the player will build an image in their head far worse than anything else. In such a beautiful looking game, and this really is, it would have been easy to hold the horror just in those dark recesses. Sadly the game crushes this dream in favour of more overt horrors.
In sum; Layers of Fear is made well and looks good. But it’s just dull. No fail state and such overt horrors rips the teeth out of this game leaving little bite left. Who knows, this could just be me being too conditioned to horror nowadays; and those with a shorter history may find this terrifying. For those people I would say dare it. For the rest, this gets a 6. A cameraman’s wander through a horror tropes museum.