Wolp, I could have probably told him that playing that many games at once would make him want to die, but nobody ever listens to me anyway. Freditor’s burnt himself out so while he recuperates on the sofa with a gross eggnog IV I shall commandeer this festive ship and steer it straight into the tree.
I have way too many games on Steam that I never get round to playing, so picking one at random that seems like I could get a handle on it in the allotted time, I ended up playing something called Layers of Fear, an early access game from Bloober Team, currently available on Steam for £9.99, or whatever heathen currency you use.
The point of Freditor’s 12 Games of Christmas was to play enough to glean a first impression, but I have to note that the first impression of this game counts for dick. When I first loaded up my copy, I took to affectionately calling this the Door Opening Simulator, where I assumed the sole purpose was to slowly walk round the dull, yet gorgeously rendered house, opening doors and peeking inside pointless cabinets and drawers. Taking a leaf from all the other ‘artsy bullshit’ non-shooter horrors I’d played, I expected there would be objects to find, keys which led to more doors, the occasional eerie noise and perhaps a token spooky jump-scare here and there. What I got surprised me, terrified me, and completely thrilled me by the time I gave up and went to stare into a corner of my shower for a couple of hours.
It’s no secret that I’m a damned coward, I’ll admit that, usually from over my shoulder after I shoot you in the leg and run away, so saying something scares me isn’t really revolutionary. Saying that something scares me and I haven’t yet closed the game and thrown my PC out the window tells you a whole lot more about this game. As I wandered these halls, rattling handles and peering tactically round corners despite knowing there were no ‘enemies’, I felt myself really getting into the mystery that is Layers of Fear. I got thoroughly wrapped up inspecting little details, drawing clues, crossing lines and desperately trying to work out what had happened in the house.
Despite my high praise, I’ve got to say, and it’s not the first time I’ve made this complaint, but one thing, perhaps the only thing that irked me about this game was the use of classical art to give underlying clues to the story. It’s a little unfair to complain about such an integral part of the game, if you play you’ll find the art is there for definite reason, but there were many famous paintings, some I’m guaranteeing hold significance to the plot, and without a background in classical art history you’re going to miss these details. Fortunately for me, constantly Googling for these faffy artsy game articles has given me a basis on which I’m finally starting to understand the references. I’d recommend Layers of Fear for the learning experience alone, though it would have helped a great deal if the game developers had chosen to put placards on the damn images to begin with. Good luck hunting down specific images without any dates or artists to go by.
I had an assistant taking notes so I didn’t have to tab out for this article, holding my hand when the shadows grew too long, watching over my shoulder when I got too scared to look at the screen, pointing out details I missed when my hands clamped over my eyes and not fucking helping when he tried to predict what horrific incident would happen next. He was right much of the time, in that once you have the formula of fear that the creators used in the game, you can pretty much guess what’s going to happen next, but like yelling, “Don’t go in the attic!” at the screen never stopped anyone from creeping up the stairs, it did nothing to diminish the joy of playing.
I’m not going to go into the actual plot, because this is an interactive mystery where the only gameplay element is in putting together numerous clues to come to a conclusion, but I can genuinely say it’s received great reviews for a reason. It’s one of the very few non-combat horror games I’ve played that I actually found interesting, and the scare element has been in no way set aside for the purpose of a grand or pretentious message. They said it was scary, and it is, but it’s also gorgeous, well-made, and still being expanded upon. It’s worth the price as-is, but seeing as it’s still early-access, there may be more shocks in the works.