Jump Scares with a Story
Once again, my letters return to the realm of horror videogames, an awesome immersive experience designed to suck you in, chew you up and spit you out.
The game I want to talk about today is Layers of Fear.
Layers of Fear was released in February 2016, and was developed by Bloober Team. It is an amazing horror game, it’s an exploration of the human psyche, which is chilling and likely to leave you uncomfortable.
I did some research before playing this game and wasn’t sure I would ever end up playing it much less writing about it, as it sounded like something that relied on jump scares in order to be scary which is not my favourite kind of horror game. However, I am very glad that I gave it the benefit of the doubt as while jump scares are present its the slow burn story that is the truly terrifying aspect of the game.
Plot (here be heavy spoilers, skip this section if you haven’t played yet!)
The game takes place in the 1920s, and you play as an unnamed artist. The game opens with you in an empty home having just returned from a court hearing. You start working on your next project but soon start to suffer hallucinations and flashbacks.
You learn that you had a wife who bore a daughter and that you left your wife to care for the child while you focused on your painting. You also gave her a dog to look after, cause yeah why not, let’s add more on to the pile. You also grew to have a drinking problem because the house was noisy (really, a house with a baby and a doggo noisy? I am shocked!). You muzzled the dog, but this didn’t help, and it is alluded to that you later killed the doggo.
As you descended into madness and stress, your friends left, and your paintings became grim. Your wife burned your painting “Lady in Black” in an effort to help you recover your mind. But alas, you did not react well, and it is inferred that you beat your wife and she left because of this.
Shortly after this, there was a fire where your wife was living, and this left her horribly disfigured. You used this as a reason to bring her back home, to take care of her. This didn’t last long though as when your wife recovered her ability to walk you neglected her because she was no longer beautiful. Your wife eventually killed herself due to the neglect and being unable to cope with the baby and you.
The story then reveals that you have gone utterly batshit crazy and have used your wife’s dismembered body to create your current project, e.g.: skin as a canvas, blood as an overlay, hair as a paintbrush, you get the idea, it’s gross.
There are three endings to our story, each caused by your choices throughout the game. These endings are known as ‘Loop’, ‘Family’ and ‘Selfish’.
In Loop, you complete the painting only for it to morph into a horrendous image which you then discard and start a new one. It is revealed that you spent years shut in his house working on the same picture over and over and over but never succeeds.
In Family we have a similar ending to Loop, only this time there is a child in the painting as well. You realize that you have made a horrible mistake, you cannot get your family back and so you burn all his paintings and yourself
In Selfish you paint a self-portrait, this one works out great and you hang it in one of the rooms. It later ends up in a museum.
There is a DLC for this game focusing on the artist’s daughter coming back to her childhood home. Like the original game, there are two endings, a good, a bad and a true ending. The True Ending is perhaps the most interesting allowing the daughter to see the world the way the father had and realizing that insanity runs in the family.
In Layers of Fear, you take control of the protagonist, an artist, exploring a stupidly dark house (so many horror games take place in the dark? It’s almost like they do it on purpose). The game works by having you solve puzzles and try not to wet yourself at the jump scares. The game is divided into six sections, or chapters, which you must complete to advance the story. Throughout the game, you’ll uncover the history of your character as well as his painting.
The atmosphere of this game is truly oppressive, feeling like it presses down on the player as you work to uncover what went down and what is still going down.
The immersive nature of the game comes from the strong visuals and stellar storytelling. The admittedly tragic story is woven in such a way that it becomes impossible not to feel for each of the characters, even the protagonist who is an arse.
The story is atmospheric, suspenseful, well-structured and keeps you pulled in via the mystery element in uncovering your own past but also with the occurrences happening in the present day. The main character is losing his mind and what is seen and heard in the house reflects that.
The game plays on numerous fears in order to ramp up the suspense and horror. There are traditional jump scare moments, where things are quiet and suddenly something leaps out at you. These moments are shocking and will get your heart racing, but they are not where the true horror element of the game comes from. The truly horrific part of this game is in the exploration of the main characters psyche, how his slow decent into madness effects not only himself but his family, even after the end of the game, in the DLC we can see how his madness left scars on the baby.
Overall a great game, you should give it a try!