There are an insurmountable amount of early access horror titles on the market with some experiencing more exposure for being ironically horrible than actually brilliant. With mechanics that bore and scares that are cheap, these make for funny viewing, but ultimately don’t help the now suffering genre. Layers of Fear isn’t one those, thankfully. If anything, it’s more of an experience that the player creeps through, fearing every step they take through the ailing mind of a failed artist. It sets itself apart instantly, because the graphics and art style rival those of a triple-A production. While that doesn’t make a game good by any measure, it helps when ninety percent of paid early access titles look like they were made using a cheese grater in the dark.
Layers of Fear is a breath of fresh air, giving new life and a modern look to a cliché motif, that some developers struggle to part from. In this (currently incomplete) iteration, you fill the drunken shoes of a begrudging painter, who cannot handle the reality around him. The beauty of the genre’s execution is in the name, as the game gradually cranks the unpleasantness higher and higher, forcing the player to question everything they see around them. A certain boiling point is reached, where you’re actively choosing whether or not you fancy venturing down that seemingly banal corridor you face. Mostly because you’re expecting it to rattle you in some way. The atmosphere is so thick that you could actually cut it with a knife… but it would likely cut you back if you tried.
Interestingly, there’s no combat, health bars, heads up display or anything to intrude on the full view of what unfolds before you. This is why it works so effectively. When you’re faced with something grotesque, you cannot shy away behind some weapon or ability to protect you, thus increasing your tension tenfold. The narrative is equally as dark as the depths your character is forced to wander down accompanied by voice acting that is nothing short of brilliant. Immersion in horror is key and Layers of Fear has it nailed down to the letter, gripping you in ways that horror should. However, it is questionably a game in the traditional sense. There’s little in the way of objective as you make your way from point to point within the vast mansion you’re trapped inside, taking in the twisted sights that the stained walls hold. If anything, making sure it’s a singular playthrough is a better call from the development team. Reducing the replay value is always a risky move for any title to make, as staking everything on just one run could spell disaster, but Layers of Fear makes each part so memorable and evil that you might not want to revisit it for a while anyway.
All things considered, it’s a wonderful addition to the Steam horror collection, which has seen little deviation from the accepted norm recently. Even though it’s still in early access, with constant fixes, updates and patches, this manages to be one of the best indie fright fests of 2015, with little repercussion.