Something bad happened in this house, that much is obvious. As I step through the empty halls and read the discarded notes, pieces of the lives that used to live in this house start to come together. The troubled artist in need of escape. The lover trying to find hope. What happened to these people? More importantly, why do books keep jumping off the shelf at me every time I hear a scream? Who is going to clean this up? Maybe the answer is in these notes I keep finding throughout the house.
Or maybe my voice will be added to these halls next.
Slow, careful terror
Layers of Fear: Solitude is going to take its time scaring the daylights out of you. Everyone starts out by learning how to move around in the game, a process that includes teleporting from circle to circle on the floor and not actually walking. When you get to a destination, there's usually something for you to do. Papers to read, cabinets and chests to open, and occasionally paintings that need to be hung back up. It's all part of a larger puzzle, and your Daydream controller lets you reach with your hands and explore these things.
This control system means everything is slow and methodical. You go to a place in the room, look around and touch whatever you can, then move on. It's not bad if you get the puzzle right away, but a little frustrating if you find yourself doing multiple laps around a particular puzzle to get to the next area. This is especially true when something in that puzzle is built top jump out and scare the daylights out of you, since it only happens once and quickly becomes more frustration than fun.
You're also going to do a lot of reading in this game. The notes you'll find go from single hand-written lines to full pages of small typed print. To the developer's credit, you can zoom in on text so it's easier to read, but VR headsets have never been super great at comfortable reading for more than a line or two so this can quickly become tiring. It's important that you not skip on a note, though, as there's often useful bits of story or puzzle information and you don't get to keep the papers you pick up.
Layers of Fear delivers if you're looking to scare yourself, but you really have to work for it to get to the next scare and you have to really want to keep going. If you're ready to explore and make mental notes about your surroundings and explore every available area, getting invested in this game can be quite rewarding. Unfortunately the movement mechanics don't make getting invested particularly easy, and it doesn't get any easier when the Daydream controller in the game lags behind your movements in the real world.
Grab some headphones
The best part of any psychological thriller is being fully immersed and letting the scare happen. On traditional game platforms that means turning the lights down late at night and focusing everything on the world in front of you. In VR, that immersion comes a lot more naturally, and when you turn your head and see more of the world it becomes a great deal easier to feel part of the experience. It's also a lot easier to become legitimately terrified as things fly at you or past you, so make sure there's no one around you when playing this game.
It's also important to have a decent set of headphones to complete the immersion for this game. The creaking wooden floors, slamming doors, breathing from somewhere else, and shrieks into the night are all part of setting you on edge as you explore. Without headphones it's a little more difficult to feel like you are a part of the experience, and in a game like Layers of Fear that can mean that the truly scary parts aren't as effective due to the lack of proper buildup.
Overall Layers of Fear is a lot of fun, but only once you really get into it. The game doesn't work particularly hard in the beginning to hook you, and while the puzzles aren't particularly complicated it can be tedious to sift through a bunch of notes and books before you figure out where you need to head next. If you want a cheap jump scare, there are better games for that experience. If you want something that you can really dive into and come out ready to hug someone, this could be the game for you.
- Legitimately scary at points
- Designed for long exploration
- Controls occasionally sluggish
- Not enough to hold your attention