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Layers of Fear (PlayStation 4) artwork

Layers of Fear (PlayStation 4) review

"Psychological Terror once again finds its home on the Playstation 4"

Players who once walked the hallowed halls of P.T., Konami's interactive teaser for an ambitious game that failed to ever materialize, will encounter immediately familiar elements when they tackle Layers of Fear. The new title's first-person exploration draws players along similarly dark and twisted corridors that make up another eerie house. It's plain to see that Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro's brief collaboration managed to leave a lasting impression on the horror genre, even though Silent Hills was never completed.

The tale opens with the introduction of the aforementioned house, a rainy night, and a painter who lacks motivation. After a brief tour of the ground floor, he steps into his studio and pauses in front of a blank canvas. It represents the beginning of his magnum opus. The troubled artist's singular desire to see his work through to its end spurs a gradual degradation of his sanity and health, with memorable results. Those who possess weak constitutions (or who are unable to handle the occasional jump scare) would do well to reconsider venturing any further.

The five-hour journey throughout the house is divided among a handful of chapters that blend together. Each piece explores a new piece of inspiration for the in-progress painting, and the player will at numerous points return to that starting point to literally paint another coat on top of any that came before it. As the player moves through the house, certain rooms become familiar. The house is almost as much a character as the unnamed protagonist himself, though, especially since the rooms shift and morph at their own discretion. The layout is never a static entity, and yet I never felt lost as I navigated, trying to prepare myself for the next time a door slammed shut behind me or eerie screams echoed through empty hallways.

Layers of Fear imbued me with a sense of dread whenever I turned a doorknob or ventured into another room. I couldn't guess what might happen next, because the developers found some truly dastardly ways to take me out of my comfort zone. My first instinct was to prepare myself for a jump scare here and there. I was less prepared, however, for a world that shifted to match my character's state of emotional imbalance. If I never have to walk along another hallway coated in viscera and gore while trying to track down the sound of a child crying, I'll be content.

The narrative guides you from room to room at a steady pace, aside from harrowing sections where you're forced to flee an assailant that is hoping to bring about your demise, but you'll have to look beneath layers of subtext if you want to find any deeper meaning to it all. Notes hidden in cupboards around the house, as well as objects tucked away in dark corners, add welcome illumination. You learn more about the painter-slash-husband's recent years, and about the events that befell his family members (who are nowhere to be found within the house). I played through Layers of Fear twice, and on each run I discovered new cues that helped to further establish the protagonist's psychopathy.

My OCD kicked into overdrive as I searched the house, constantly looking slightly down in hopes of finding a new drawer or cabinet I could open to find a new piece of lore to peruse. All too often, that hunt for new information would divert my attention, so that I would only be alerted to a nearby environment hazard or jump scare when a loud shriek or a shrill twang sounded, like in a typical horror film.

You won't find many environmental puzzles in Layers of Fear, but the few that do crop up during the campaign add some additional gameplay depth. A variety of number-coded padlocks are strewn about the mansion, based on the doors the player passes through, and each one requires you to more closely explore your surroundings in search of a clue. When you enter the proper three-digit combination, you can unlock anything from a new corridor to explore, to artifacts of the painter's life that offer additional insight into his previous existence. Finding the solution is often as simple as searching for a series of three digits scrawled on a nearby wall, but there are some puzzles that are more complex, depending on your skill at examining the environment from different angles. Knowing how to dial a rotary phone is another useful skill that you'll make use of a few times in the campaign's later portions, which could prove more challenging for those raised solely in the digital age.

I played Layers of Fear on both the PC and the PlayStation 4. From a performance standpoint, the PC version was the more stable of the two, but I was drawn to the simpler controls offered by the DualShock 4. The trade-off is that I frequently ran into slight screen tearing and performance hitches as the game readjusted set pieces or rendered certain special effects (the gas effect in the hidden ouija room was one such offender). The console version does offer the option to disable the head bob (which grows increasingly pronounced as the narrative progresses), and there is a slider to adjust the Field of View.

Layers of Fear offers an artistic take on a genre that typically explores the same few supernatural and slasher tropes. In a world that never saw P.T. materialize as a full-on project, any worthy contender for that crown is worth our attention. Layers of Fear suffers from a few missteps along the way to its climactic conclusion, but it does offer the long-awaited descent into madness that Kojima and friends never had the opportunity to deliver. I was glad I went along for the ride.


Gregarious's avatar
Freelance review by Kai Powell (February 15, 2016)

As an aspiring FGC contributor, Kai has earned enough tournament accolades to earn the title 'Eternally Second'. When not pouring his heart out over covering the games industry and running a corporate games store, he also spends his mornings at a ramen-ya

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