Draw me like one of your French girls…
An exceptional title by Polish developers Bloober Team, Layers of Fear is a bone rattling “psychological and psychedelic” experience that is sure to get under the skin of hardened horror fans and amateur adventurers alike. Somewhat reminiscent of Amnesia: The Dark Descent and A Machine for Pigs, Layers of Fear shares a handful of commonalities with games of the same genre. Unlike many typical horror games, however, Layers of Fear delivers a disturbing experience in a refreshingly unique manner that doesn’t rely solely on jump-scares nor ghoulish enemies to keep the player on edge.
Adopting the role of a once famed painter, you find yourself on the brink of utter insanity as you struggle to cope with a series of tragic events that leave you irreparably traumatised. The game follows this character as he attempts to rectify his shattered existence by painting his magnum opus, his one true masterpiece. The painting is completed in stages as you progress through the game and each layer unravels, bit by bit, the true motive behind the anguished artist’s pursuit.
Layers of Fear is set in the first half of the 20th century, according to Developers, and is heavily inspired by artists like Goya and Rubens whom they say contributed to the movement of ‘the art of ugliness’, which is evidently a prolific theme throughout the game. The graphics in Layers of Fear are incredibly realistic and the intricate and historically accurate design of each piece of furniture, within the Artist’s Victorian mansion, intentionally magnifies the immersive nature of the game and makes for an intensely haunting experience. Naturally, the mansion is quite dull but the drab greys and browns of the walls and furniture are often contrasted by splatterings of vibrant paint that can be found all over the house. This striking juxtaposition paints a number of stunningly beautiful scenes in the otherwise sombre but intensely ambient mansion.
Game-play is stippled with mementos of the past; letters, keepsakes, sketches and photographs that help to illuminate the tragedies that torment the painter. These collectible items appear on display in the Artist’s studio once they have been found and discovering all of a particular type of item will unlock an achievement. Exploration is greatly rewarded in Layers of Fear as many of these items lurk in shadowy corners and strange places. This encourages players to scour each beautifully designed room of the house diligently to ensure they leave no stone unturned. Often, items within the house will evoke a memory from the Artist’s history; brilliantly written and performed snippets of monologue or dialogue that bring unseen figures from the game’s narrative to life.
The impressive voice acting is only one aspect of the phenomenal audio in Layers of Fear. The main theme is beautifully composed by Arkadiusz Reikowski, known for the award-winning soundtrack of Kholat . The haunting piano melody ties heavily into the plot of the game and is complemented by chilling but beautiful vocals from Penelopa Willmann-Szynalik. The score in its entirety gracefully balances a sense of peril and a sense of comfort in its undeniably charming composition. You may find yourself enchanted by the sound of Reikowski’s piano and just as easily you learn to fear its’ menacing presence. In this way, the soundtrack serves as a warning, of sorts, piping up at just the right time to remind you of the fraught circumstances in which you find yourself within the mansion.
As your magnum opus develops, layer upon layer, traces of your earlier paintings remain visible, reminding you that you cannot cover up nor escape your past. As the game progresses the Artist, a surmisable alcoholic, falls deeper and deeper into severe psychosis and the scene around you becomes more and more abstract. The line that separates reality and delusion becomes increasingly more difficult to define and the imagery used to illustrate the painter’s descent into madness is profoundly disturbing.
Though there is no combat mechanic in the game, you can “face death” in Layers of Fear. Curiosity certainly will kill the cat, or the Artist in this case and, avoiding spoilers, venturing too close to things that are better left alone will definitely have repercussions. This unique necessity for decision making poses an odd challenge for gamers. Naturally, gamers tend to want to see everything a game has to offer but in Layers of Fear ignoring or looking away from certain events may, in fact, reward you. The impact of the decision to confront or deny the Artist’s demons is a fascinating dynamic that appears to manipulate the course of the narrative quite significantly. This is a unique facet of Layers of Fear that is rarely featured in horror games. More often than not, games in this genre rely almost exclusively on confrontation to build tension but Layers of Fear manages to successfully construct an exceptionally charged experience with the combination of its environment, soundtrack, narrative and pacing.
Layers of Fear is an outstanding debut and could easily be considered the best horror game of the year, if not one of the best ever made, particularly for next generation consoles. With heavily story-driven game-play, a compelling narrative and captivating characters, fans of rich dialogue, mystery and well-paced drama will without a doubt be enraptured by Layers of Fear. It is difficult to fault such an elegantly executed project as it ticks boxes in every thinkable category from its stunning graphics to its enchanting soundtrack. Layers of Fear is an emotive journey through love, loss and sheer lunacy that deserves to be experienced first-hand.
 Aspyr Media Inc., “Layers Of Fear - A Psychedelic Horror Game”. Layersoffear.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
 Reikowski, Arkadiusz. “Arkadiusz Reikowski – Official Site”. Arkadiuszreikowski.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
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