Today, some thoughts on Layers of Fear (Bloober Team).
Layers of fear, layers of existence
Layers of Fear (Bloober Team), available on Steam Early Access, begins quoting Oscar Wilde in The picture of Dorian Gray: 'Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter'. This statement could be interpreted as a specific conception of the notion of authorship; it is the artist, active subject, on whom relies the power of creation over what becomes the passive vessels of their actions: the canvas and the sitter. However, this is a misleading assertion, because the artist-player will be manipulated and dominated by the work-game until the former is trapped by the multiple layers of the latter: layers of narrative, fear and existence.
It is a first person game, with a peculiarity that is easily spotted when we stop: the camera sways as if we were on a ship's deck. This simile is useful to speak about Layers of Fear, because we will witness a personal and family wreckage; maybe even a social one. The fact that outside of the mansion in which the game takes place there is a storm, whose thunders' light intermittently inundate the rooms we go over, enhances the narrative about a sinking vessel that was once magnificent and able to navigate the ocean of the quotidian, the familiar and the professional with favourable wind.
We embody an artist, a painter who has fallen on hard times. He has lost his family and is on the verge of madness. Or that is what we will be unfolding as we advance in the game. Divested of everything - his love ones, his health, his prestige, he only has his art remaining, the last shred of hope he can cling to in order to construct meaning and avoid losing his sanity completely. That is one alternative. The other one is art was what has stripped him, layer by layer, of his humanity, his judgement, his social status. And the best part is how this transformation is made in terms of gameplay.
In Layers of Fear, there are no enemies to defeat, resources to manage, characters to speak to, or even puzzles - strictly speaking - to solve. The aim is to progress from room to room, uncovering different aspects of the story in the shape of newspapers clippings, letters, diary entries, or objects. In the meantime, we interact with the environment, or that is what we are led to believe, because, as the plot progresses, we have the feeling that it is the environment the one that is tampering with us. That constantly keeps the player tense, a feeling of uneasiness that grows as times passes, with each new room; as if we also were starting to be colonised by the protagonist's psychosis. Little by little, the house absorbs the player in a series of rooms that form the layers that are being added to their experience of play, distorting their perception and ability to foresee what will be next. Some parallelisms can be established with P.T., the piece of work that Konami involuntarily turned into a legend. Although nobody can deny P.T.'s influence on Layers of Fear, I think the game stands for itself because it makes everything feel alive without us almost noticing the backstage that makes it possible.
Every time the player 'dies' in the game, even though those deaths are part of the natural development of the game, you respawn in a room where it is possible to read on the wall the following message: 'Death is but a layer'. Reading it makes you shiver and, in my opinion, it is mostly true. After all, life and death are like our experiences, which include failures and successes, sorrows and joys; they are different layers that - superimposed and interwoven, occasionally made of strips of former layers - shape the texture of our reality. And Layers of Fear, that little video game still in development (which I look forward to seeing what else can offer), adds its own existential layer.