Tuesday, March 01, 2016

"Layers of Fear" Less Then Terrifying

I was given a copy of this game to review several weeks ago, but have been finding myself in a difficult position of understanding my feelings about the game. Like Street Fighter V, I want to like Layers of Fear. Available for PC, XBox One, and PS4, the game is a first-person, psychedelic, horror/mystery game that focuses on exploration. You take on the role of a painter in the depths of madness, who's attempting to create his greatest work of art, all while roaming the halls of the ever-changing Victorian mansion that he resides in. It looks cool, good-simple controls, and interesting puzzles.

Steam users seem to like it, giving it a 10/10. Metacritic reviewers are giving it a 71/100, with user scores generally favorable in the 8/10 range. I think people are basing their reviews more off of the YouTuber reaction videos, which are hilarious to watch. But what about you playing the game alone with the lights off? Is this game worth the scares that will cause you to quiver in your shoes?

The short answer: no.

My biggest complaint with this game is that the attempts to scare you are too obvious. It's clear that when you look out a window to read graffiti on a wall, that the window pane is going to shut in front of you a moment later and the lights will turn off. You know when things are about to fly across the screen to give you the next clue. Or pull a 'Ghostbusters II' and objects within the paintings come to life, and spoiled fruit topples out of the frame. There is no subtly in how the game wants to make you jump in your seat. And it's all cliché. We've seen it hundreds of times before in scary movies and games. I had hoped that with the room morphing would add another element of fear, but it didn't. It's all tired, boring stuff we've seen before.

Second issue is with the story and not providing a payoff. From the beginning of the game, we know that you're playing as a painter. You've gone mad, and you're using random things from your home to create your masterpiece. You explore the area as it morphs about, to find out the backstory of the painter, and what possibly happened to his wife and child. You also collect pieces such as flesh and blood, which go into the painting. That's not a spoiler by the way; the game very clearly tells you that the artist did something really horrible to his family, from the get go. And that's the disappointing part. The story gives you everything up front and it's not as interesting to unlock the "mystery" behind the painter. For the time and effort the developers went into creating the puzzles (they are smart in execution without being too intense), it's all waylaid by a dull story.

The visuals in this game are lovely, and surprisingly polished for an indie developer. The camera tricks and the room psychedelic changes are solid. They add the element of excitement that is so desperately needed in this game. You keep hoping as you continue down the hallways that you'll be compelled to keep moving forward. And the game tries. It really tries. In fact, it probably tricks you with the great visuals that it covers up the blasé story. Maybe that's one of the layers of fear? But pretty graphics do not make a good game.

The developers have a great outline for a game. It's refined on a level that some AAA franchises could use. But it's missing some of the key components that define great horror/mystery titles: a worth-while story and a reason to keep walking forward into the dark hallways.

If you have any interest in this game, it's best to leave it to the YouTubers and watch them freak out over boring jump scares.


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