Let's not beat around the bush, Layers of Fear is a horror title slash walking simulator that you'll probably either love or hate. Well actually, that's not totally true, because if you're like me, you'll find the game to be an enjoyable, fairly intelligent and psychological (also psychedelic) experience that's well worth the price of admission - especially if you get the game on sale as I did at the time - but one that certainly isn't perfect and may get a tad predictable. Still, it's a neat game to have in the Linux gaming library.
So, the premise.
In Layers of Fear you're basically an insane (albeit formally very successful and famous) painter who's lost his wife and child and left to wallow in his misery in his rather lavish grand old mansion. Whether his true insanity manifested itself after losing his family or not is up for debate and I would suspect the guy was a few screws loose in the first place. He was a very successful artist with some unusual but brilliant artworks after all and you know what they say about the fine line between genius and madness.
It's really hard to give too much else away about the storyline without spoilers, but suffice to say Mr. Painter's wife - his beautiful lover and muse - is involved in an accident and becomes disfigured. Which, in his eyes, has ruined her perfection and everything tragically spirals out of control from there.
The actual game takes place simply walking around the mansion and interacting with items, doors... and lots and lots of draws. Fair dinkum, I reckon I opened more cupboards and draws in Layers of Fear than I have in my entire real life. This is where the "walking simulator" moniker comes from. In the game most of the gameplay really just revolves around walking from room to room of the mansion, opening doors and draws and occasionally interacting with a particular item or otherwise key piece to the storyline. Letters to be read, trinkets that trigger memories (the equivalent of audio logs, kinda), collectable posters and photographs and just very occasionally a piece to a puzzle, that kind of thing, all the while you strive to complete your "Magnum Opus", a very particular painting that you'll develop as you find particular pieces that advance the story and unravel some of what really went down in this creepy house.
This could sound bland and predictable, but Layers of Fear does have one fairly neat trick up its sleeve: real-time reality warping. Indeed, in this game it's not as simple as walking from one room to another and then back again. You go through a door and then try to go back, you may end up in an entirely different part of the house. In fact, merely looking in one direction and then looking back again and the entirely scenery can change. Doors suddenly appear (or vice versa), a room could go from brightly lit and vibrant to suddenly dim, depressing and just somehow eerily different with tiny little creepy differences that make themselves obvious the more you look around. And things can get even more wild than that, with objects suddenly flying around, doors crashing down and all manner of things you would expect in a seemingly haunted house.
I say "seemingly" haunted because, remember, we're playing as a dude who's either insane or on an acid trip. Perhaps even likely a bit of both. How much is real in Layers of Fear is something that people could spend a good amount of time debating. But it makes no difference at the end of the day, because real or not, this guy is going through one hell of an experience.
Per the title of this article though, the game can be a bit unfortunate in that the jumpscares can be a bit too predictable and numerous. It's not all bad and sometimes there's even moments that are somehow scary and humorous at the same time; the game can be quite intelligent in design. But all too often you can just see it coming and I felt by towards the final third of the game that I certainly wasn't ever really feeling afraid or on-edge. And to be honest, I'm not the best player of horror games. In fact, Layers of Fear is probably the first horror game I've actually ever finished. Probably says a lot!
Still, to wrap things up, Layers of Fear is a game full of artistic realisation, both in terms of the actual paintings scattered throughout the mansion and in terms of how the game and story is designed. No surprise, given apparently the majority of the developers of the game (Bloober Team SA) have actual high level educational recognition in art. These guys know their art. Beyond getting creeped out, you can actually spend your time walking around the mansion admiring some very impressive artworks (some original, some real life works incorporated into the game). Well, until the artwork suddenly warps into something demonic or otherwise unsettling before your very eyes. Did I mention the reality warping thing? It's hard not to notice in this game.
Anyway, the game gives about 4 hours of gameplay in the main campaign and there is also a DLC to be played afterwards, which I have yet to play myself, but this was just a quick look at the main game. Layers of Fear is a neat psychological horror title on the Penguin platform and while it can be a bit too predictable and not actually all too scary, it's still well worth a play through. And yes, it runs well (Unity engine) without some of the usual bugs we see in some Unity titles on Linux, although I did experience one hard freeze on my system, it otherwise looked and played very well on max details at 1080p on my open source powered (Mesa) AMD 380X.
I'd recommend it, so long as you don't have ridiculously high expectations. And remember...
Don't. Look. Back.
Get Layers of Fear: Steam