Also On: Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Bloober Team
Developer: Bloober Team
Whatever problems Bloober Team may have as a developer — and goodness knows they have more than their fair share — one thing that they've become undeniably good at is coming up with creepy, haunting visuals. Even when they created one of the most broken games ever made, they still managed to set it in a world filled with nightmare fuel grotesques. That it also played like nightmare fuel was a giant negative, of course, but it's still worth noting that even at their lowest point, they were able to do one thing right.
It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, then, that when they take that positive and turn it into an entire game, things turn out pretty well for them. Layers of Fear is, essentially, a horror movie walking simulator. That means Bloober Team didn't have to worry too much about messy things like combat, or multiplayer, or complex interactive environments. They just needed to create a house, decorate it according to their uniquely terrifying visual style, and let the player walk his way through a relatively linear story.
And within those modest goals, they succeed wildly. I'm not saying it's going to make anyone forget the likes of Firewatch, Gone Home, or Everybody's Gone To The Rapture, but at the same time, I don't think it's aiming to do that. Where those other games wanted to deal with weighty social issues and complicated inner lives, Layers of Fear just aims to scare the pants off you with the story of a demented artist trapped in an ever-shifting maze of a house. Between the creepy-as-hell voice acting and art that looks like the interior decorator bought Hieronymus Bosch paintings in bulk, it's safe to say that you'll spend the entirety of your time with the game in a constant state of unease.
That said, there are some issues with the game. It's a little over-reliant on jump scares, for starters. I get that it's an easy way to get a rise out of players, but the fact Layers of Fear goes to that well so frequently is definitely a case of diminishing returns. There are only so many times you can have a loud, dissonant noise accompanying something suddenly appearing in front of you out of nowhere before it stops being terrifying and starts becoming a little predictable (if that makes sense). Similarly — at least for me — the game occasionally relies on the ick factor a little too much. I really, truly didn't need to hear an excruciatingly long description of someone's skin being carved off, or their blood being drained — though on this point, I should concede, your mileage may vary. I have an extraordinarily low capacity for even a hint of gore, so if you've got the tolerance for it, you may have no problem with that.
And that brings me to a larger point: see that last paragraph? None of those things are game-breaking flaws, just subjective things that you may or may not agree with. This stands in stark contrast to Bloober's previous outings, which ranged from fundamentally flawed to…well, less fundamentally flawed. That they've come out with something that plays to their strengths so well is an impressive achievement, and if you have any love for horror games whatsoever, you owe it to yourself to play Layers of Fear.