Connect with us
Layers of Fear Featured Imager Layers of Fear Featured Imager

Review

Layers of Fear Review – A Picture is Worth a 1,000 Scares

Published

 on

I am what you may call a–possibly arrogant–horror purist; I loathe the majority of so-called “horror” films, am sickened by the genre’s infection of millennial romantics, and harbor a nearly personal resentment of M. Night Shyamalan. This trinity has convoluted a good sector of the classic genre, but I think it worth mentioning whenever I bear witness to the rare instances of when horror is done right. I am relieved to say that Layers of Fear is a worthwhile trip for all kinds of traditional horror fans and gamers alike.

Layers of Fear is a first-person psychedelic horror adventure game that centers around a daft artist as he attempts to paint his magnum opus. The shapeshifting mansion he lives in serves as a maze-like backdrop while he searches its corridors for odd materials to paint with. After obvious years of personal torment and alcohol abuse, his final reoccurring goal is to finish his masterpiece before madness completely consumes him. What or who does he intend to paint, what do these hastily scrawled notes mean, and what truly happened in this man’s past? The answers can only be found by delving deep into his deranged, psychotic mind and exploring the secrets that the mansion holds firsthand.

Layers of Fear opens with an Oscar Wilde quote, and by the time I arrive at the canvas intended to portray my magnum opus, I can’t help but to subsequently think of Dorian Gray. However, I quickly wonder if the painting will end up as a beautiful portrait or something much more horrifying. At first, as I trek through the mansion’s hallways and Victorian rooms, I hear strange noises and encounter unsettling, but minor, paranormal happenings. I begin to feel like I’ve been transported into a Salvador Dali painting, inside of a Poe- and Lovecraft-created world. Before I even realize it, my nerves are on edge, I’m breathing shallowly, and my shoulders are raised high in tension. A hallway light flickers, a door slams, there’s an unsettling sound in the distance–a weeping woman. The sketchy lighting and ever-fading music serves me up for a good fright, all the while the room morphs into different shapes and sizes. I find myself obsessively switching on every lamp I come across…

I expected Layers of Fear to be trippy and questionable the moment I read the first note on the table at the very beginning. The author threatens a lawsuit if the main character continues to send threatening letters to a pest control company about how they failed to fix the pestiferous house. Immediately the story took a turn toward an unreliable narrator approach that would inevitably make you question reality and perception. Layers of Fear cleanly executes this precarious style. The story is not too penciled in; it’s up to the player to fill in the empty spaces with their own interpretations, relying on the scant few clues uncovered throughout the game. You will form your own ideas about the characters and their history, guaranteeing each player to have a unique takeaway from the horrific experience.

Layers of Fear Canvas

The setting encapsulates the story and genre expertly. Nowhere is as quite unsettling as a creepy, massive mansion during a thunderstorm. Walking through a long hallway where the furniture moves or disappears completely builds anxiety as you wait to encounter the next scare. The sound that accompanies your adventure sharpens its unease; occasionally all will be hushed while you move from room to room, opening creaky doors and surveying your surroundings, which spread tension as thick as butter. I highly recommend using headphones capable of surround sound, so you’ll be engrossed in the moment. The main character’s voice acting is incredibly ominous; the narration sounds like it comes from Heath Ledger’s Joker himself.

The psychedelic aspects of Layers of Fear either accurately hit their mark or land a little flat. Areas where the environment shifts–expounding or contracting–often throw you off solid footing. However, there are times where the psychedelics go a tad far and come across more manufactured than authentic. In these instances, you get pulled out of the frightening experience instead of plummeting deeper into it. Whenever the psychedelics went overboard, I found myself detached from the setting and my angst refreshed instead of built upon. There are a few circumstances where Layers of Fear is organically scary and others less so. As it is true in any horror novel, these authentic moments are where the game delivers the largest amount of suspense.

Unfortunately, like many horror or narrative-based games, Layers of Fear lacks deep gameplay mechanics. As the player, you really don’t interact with much. Horror games tend to benefit from player input (think Alan Wake or Resident Evil). Except for picking up key objective items, turning on lights, opening doors and occasionally solving a small puzzle, there isn’t much left for the player to do except continually walk from area to area. Layers of Fear would have made a lasting impression had there been more for the player to do instead of feeling like they’re on an everlasting treadmill. Granted, the “treadmill” does constantly transform, so at least the environment never becomes dull. But the limited character interactions and overall restricted gameplay left me yearning for more than I received.

Layers of Fear Elevator

Layers of Fear’s graphics maxed out at 1440p are a sight to behold. There are scant few optimization issues, resulting in a smooth experience. The lighting is cast flawlessly, with each room defining a feeling of the macabre. From the creepy Victorian illustrations to the hand scrawled notes, the era and atmosphere is admirably depicted. The mansion that you venture through the entire time is also designed well, an endless hedge maze; objects and rooms are rarely repeated, nor do they become too familiar.

Layers of Fear brings forth a unique, frightening experience. Even the arguably occasional clichéd plot points come across as genuine. Though the story isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it leaves a good amount left up to the player’s imagination, which in this case is fitting. Letting the player fill in the story’s gaps is a common trait true to the best of horror stories. The ending especially holds a satisfying twist that will ultimately tickle your brain. Though the game lacks enthralling gameplay features, its story and setting makes up for the lost ground. There are times when the psychedelic elements go somewhat far and you are left disoriented. Nonetheless, if you appreciate horror or are just looking for an interesting scare, Layers of Fear will deliver what it promises.

Publisher: Aspyr | Developer: Bloober Team SA | Genre: First-Person Adventure, Horror | Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC | ESRB: M 17+ | Release Date: February 16, 2016 & Steam Early Access | Controls: Mouse/Keyboard, Gamepad/Controller

Layers of Fear was played on PC and was provided by the developer.

[taq_review]

Benjamin writes for Newegg and OnlySP, providing both PC hardware and gaming reviews. He owns an electronic repair business, is a PC modding enthusiast and constantly invents imaginative excuses to upgrade his rig.

Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

Published

 on

Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

Continue Reading