Monday, September 18, 2017

Layers of Fear

Recently released Observer seemed to have an intriguing theme judging by what I saw of the game being streamed. It got me interested of its developer's previous title, Layers of Fear, which then just happened to be in the beat-the-average tier of a humble bundle.

Bloober Team appeared to have done a journey similar to what Frictional Games did with going from Amnesia: The Dark Descent to SOMA: from a horror game taking place in the past to a horror game in a science fiction setting. Unfortunately Layers of Fear, like Amnesia, was not really to my liking.

Walking simulator with psychological horror

Layers of Fear has minimal gameplay. Mostly you move about and fling open doors and drawers to maybe find a story item. A monster makes an appearance here and there but you do not need to hide or run from it -- merely avoid walking into it. Or not, as one of the three endings so requires. There are few puzzles too but largely the game is a straight-up walking simulator.

With such a lack of game mechanics, the story really has to be good and interesting for a game to be entertaining. But unlike Soma, Layers of Fear is terribly boring. The unfolding narrative is uninspired and predictable.

At least I found it a lot creepier than Amnesia. Layers of Fear often succeeds at building a spooky atmosphere in which jump scares have easier time to succeed. Rooms often change behind -- and in front of -- you when triggering something, accompanied by appropriate sound effects.

What really would have sent chills down my spine is if a portrait had suddenly turned to look at me. I thought that might happen considering paintings are an important story element, and there were times when one did melt or morph to something else but that is just not quite as creepy.

When I had first walked around most of the house the game takes place in, I thought it was not a big enough place to last a few hours. However, Layers of Fear is not limited to the physical limits of the place as you find out soon enough. Doors that you came in from lead to new rooms when going back and you never know what will be behind the door at the other end of a hallway. And sometimes a twisting passage seems to have no end until you try going back where you came from.

A Unity game

Layers of Fear could have used better content streaming as there is a split-second freeze when a door locks behind you and the game loads the next room. It is as if it was doing things in a single thread, which would not surprise me as it runs on Unity.

Layers of Fear does not have the long loading times like Unity games I have lately played, however. And it does not look too bad either. There is quite a lot of detail, at least to last a few rooms -- the art assets do start getting reused after some time. The red vase also really sticks out wherever it is to the point you would think it had some symbolic meaning. But other than once holding a key inside in the Inheritance DLC, I did not find the vase to have any bigger purpose.

I think the developers should have played with the movement settings a bit. How it takes a moment for you to accelerate to full speed and how going up stairs really slows you down, really felt like default Unity. Head bobbing one might want to turn off even if not prone to motion sickness. It is more like head swaying and happens even when standing still. It is rather annoying.

I was surprised most mirrors actually show a reflection of you, even if muddy. There were no jump scares related to them but I appreciated it nonetheless. So many games do not have (working) mirrors, even when they have multiple bathrooms like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided for instance.

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