Monday, May 30, 2016

Mini Review: Layers of Fear (PC Version)

Sometimes it's refreshing to play a game about something other than wholesale combat. Take Layers of Fear, for instance, a game in which you get to explore the mind of an artist, as he dwells in his solitude and ponders his magnum opus.

...Sure, he's deranged....and he may be a serial killer, haunted by the spirit of his deformed dead wife and child....but ART, man!

Layers of Fear is one of those new wave indie games found frequently on Steam or in Humble Bundle deals (I snagged mine at Green Man Gaming for a nice discount on a Steam key copy). It's not about shooting stuff, or even about a coherent story, necessarily. Instead, it's about an experience.

On the Venn Diagrams of "roller-coaster rides" and "Deep psychological horror experiences" you'll find Layers of Fear smack in the center, offering an experience in which you make your way through the visions of a man either deranged or tormented (or both) in a surreal depiction of what is either a grotesque personal haunting, a madman's mind, or something more profane (such as a personal purgatory made real).

The story is told in bits and pieces as you advance, each piece suggesting the bigger picture at work. Occasionally you will run into vaguely challenging puzzle bits, but nothing remotely weird or unusual; this is not a puzzle game, and what "puzzles" you find are ultimately part of the overall process of moving the experience forward. The longest roadblock I ran in to took about three minutes to figure out, for example...and only because I wasn't looking for something obvious.

One thing which kept coming to my mind while playing....and if you play, you'll see why....was a vague sense that there was more than a little inspiration from Lovecraft's Rats in the Wall sand Pickman's Model. There's no explicit narrative connection, but the thematics, visuals, and occasional...ah....rat will have you suspecting that that Layers of Fear is in the same ballpark as these tales.

Another reason to enjoy Layers of Fear: it has some geuine, strikingly weird visual moments, well worth experiencing. There's even a moment which starts off as hauntingly beautiful (when you are in the little girl's bedroom with the mobile casting pictures on the walls) that eventually your own actions....into something truly horrific. Very impressive stuff, and nothing like I've seen in other games of this type.

The total game experience lasted me about 3 hours, but it was well spent time. The base retail price is $19.99 but if you can find a copy for $10 or less you should grab it; if you are really, really in to this genre of horror experiences (I hesitate to really call any of them "games") then snag it at retail, you won't be disappointed. Or wait for the VR edition of the future....this game would make a great VR experience, I suspect.

Solid A

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