‘Layers of Fear’ (Early Access) Review

Layers of Fear has finally come to Xbox One, but is it worth your time?

**Note: this review is based on the first chapters of Layers of Fear as provided by Steam Early Access/Xbox Game Preview. For that reason, consider critiques and the final score provisional.**

Developer Bloober Team has crafted a horror experience unlike one I’ve ever played. Although terror surrounds the player at all times, there isn’t a single instance of running, hiding or slamming doors behind you as flee from some hulking beast. Instead, Bloober holds your hand and guides you through a¬†psychedelic trip of paint and blood.

On this journey, you play a failed painter who is haunted by the loss of his wife. As you fail to cope with her death, it becomes clear that you’ve lost your ability to paint anything that isn’t grotesque and bizarre. Making your struggle with sanity even harder, your home is littered with your wife’s mementos. Each time you find a new one, the world around you twists and turns and black paint pours from cracks in the walls engulfing the player in black mush.

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In this room, you play one of your wife’s records and ink bleeds through the walls.

The process of finding objects pushes the game’s narrative on until you begin collecting tools that will help craft a final master piece. The piece you’re creating is so vile and disturbing that you may not want to continue playing, but Bloober shoves you deeper and deeper into their world. Like a bad dream, I knew what I was crafting was evil and wrong, but I couldn’t stop my character from committing atrocities for the sake of his art.

The beginning of your masterpiece - things only get worse as the game progresses
The beginning of your masterpiece – things only get worse as the game progresses.

Layers of Fear took me to a deeper place in video game horror than I’ve ever been. In games like Amnesia, you play someone who has lost their mind, but there are external threats that are beyond the players control. In Bloober’s first chapters of Layers of Fear, you can’t even control yourself and that’s what makes it truly horrifying.

From a graphical point of view, this game generally performed well. The environments were as beautiful as they were horrifying, and I only remember a handful of moments where it felt like the framerate slugged. Remember: the game is in early access and may receive performance boosts once the game is optimized towards the end of its development cycle.

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Additionally, it’s worth noting that the version of the game currently available on Xbox One and Steam Early Access is quite short. I completed the game in roughly two hours, but I could tell that the full narrative wasn’t nearly over by time it ended. The final version should hopefully add a couple more hours to the experience.

The Verdict

Layers of Fear is easily the best horror game I’ve played on next-gen. For the first time gaming, I felt like the antagonist in my own story, and dreading what I did next is what kept me pushing through the game. The graphics are stunning and the performance is respectable as an early access title. What’s currently available might be a tad sparse, but the $12.99 (or your local equivalent) price tag grants you complete access to everything Bloober adds to the game as they continue to work on it.

Layers of Fear is smart, unique and overflowing with macabre style. If you can stomach the horror, there’s no reason to skip this vile masterpiece.

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