You may have noticed that Metal Gear Solid V is happening today and, if you're anything like me, all of this Kojima talk might bring Silent Hills to mind. The cancelled horror game was to combine the talents and imaginations of Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro, and its "playable teaser", P.T., caused a heck of a stir when it landed on PS4. It's gone now, cast into the void of unbeing by Konami. but worry not (or 'worry a great deal', I guess) because Layers of Fear [official site] is a splendid replacement. It's an Early Access horror game that feels polished, complete and is so frightening that when I started playing last night, I had to wait until morning to play more.
You play a painter and he's rather an obnoxious chap. He's so determined to create a masterpiece, after suffering a bout of creative block, that he thinks it's absolutely to treat everyone around him like crap. Other people, it seems, exist to be sacrificed on the altar of his greatness.
No matter though because he himself is now bound and naked upon that altar. Metaphorically. Remember how Gone Home felt like it might turn into a horror game? Layers of Fear is the horror game that never was, set within that familiar space as it becomes unfamiliar. The P.T. comparison relates to the jump scares and corridors. As in the Silent Hill teaser, you'll spend a lot of time walking down corridors waiting for terrible things to happen.
Now, I hate jump scares. Can't stand them. Partly that's because I'm prone to panicking when loud noises happen and partly it's because I like my horror to be a little more than bumps in the night. Layers of Fear earns its jump scares. They're artfully crafted, relying on tension, creative direction and manipulation of line of sight. It helps that the game is strikingly attractive, not just in the fidelity of its environments - although it wins the Ratatouille award for best foodstuffs I've ever seen in a game - but in the use of paintings to create a sense of dread. Faces watching from the walls. Crying in the dark. Things lurking in the corner of your vision.
I expect Early Access horror games to lean on a gimmick and fall over when it fails to support their weight. Layers of Fear just goes straight for the jugular, using every trick in the book to put the frighteners into you. It's not particularly inventive and it's far from subtle, but it's beautifully put together and startlingly effective.
The Early Access version ends rather abruptly but I'd have been perfectly happy if it were a release candidate. The developers plan to add more rooms and more terrifying trickery. Highly recommended.
It's £5.94 on Steam Early Access right now.