I played Layers of Fear when it debuted back in 2016 on PC. Honestly, I don’t remember playing it and Steam says I only have .7 hours logged so it didn’t hold my attention for long, but now the game has arrived on VR. Actually, it already hit Steam VR in 2019, but Bloober Team’s adventure horror has finally made it to PSVR, and this time I managed to stick it out to the end; at least one of the three possible endings. Layers of Fear VR lies somewhere in that shadowy area of a mediocre adventure game that somehow gets just a bit better when played in VR, only in the case of PSVR the visual quality is so low it actually detracts from any benefits VR might bestow upon it. I also find it very consumer unfriendly to be selling the VR and non-VR versions separately for $20 each. There should be at least some sort of discount if we are expected to double-dip.
Layers of Fear VR quickly falls in line with the standard first-person, adventure-thriller that consists of hours of exploration, lots of collectibles, plenty of reading, a few puzzles, and plenty of jump-scares. You know the kind; paintings flying off the wall, a knife flying across the kitchen and sticking in the door, ceiling fans falling from above, an empty wheelchair squeaking across a room. You’ll be playing the game as a mad painter who is trying to create a painting of his dead wife. Your first objective is to find the key to your art studio and once there this will serve as your base for multiple excursions into the house to find skin, blood, bone, a finger, an eyeball; you know…all your basic art supplies.
Inner voices, random writing on the walls, haunted toys, and plenty of creepy dolls all wait to send the occasional shiver down your spine. The game uses an assorted mix of visual and audio tactics as well as some creative pacing to build up tension then hit you when you least expect it. One of the game’s best tactics that lends itself greatly to VR is that your surroundings will change with your view, so merely spinning around in VR can cause your reality to change. This also happens with doors that don’t always lead back to where you came from…almost never in fact. Don’t even think about mapping the floorplan. This is more of an on-rails haunted house, and you’re along for the ride with a few pauses for reading documents for backstory and solving puzzles that are more desperation than logic.
The game loop basically has you entering a room and all the doors will lock until you discover the trigger that lets you continue. This usually involves finding a certain item, lighting some candles, maybe playing a record, tinkering on a piano, etc. Sometimes doors are actually locked and require a key. Inventory is limited to these one-off items and requires no management on your part. There can be quite a bit of walking between rooms, down passages or through other rooms, all of which are filled with interactive objects, drawers, cabinets, chests, almost all of which are empty of anything useful. I don’t mind searching everything as long as there is the occasional reward for my effort, but after searching dozens of empty storage spaces you start to give up, and that’s when they put the required key in the bottom drawer of a nightstand.
As far as presentation Layers of Fear VR definitely benefits from the added immersion of VR and the ability to look around with just a turn of your head. There was one instance where writing on the wall said “Don’t look behind you.” In most games this would mean moving your mouse or analog stick, but having to turn your actual head and see what’s there…well, that is just terrifying. Sadly, for all the added immersion the PSVR is ill-equipped to deliver an enjoyable experience. Even on my PS4 Pro the resolution is so much lower than the non-VR version and there is a ton shimmering and jagged edges. The game is dark by nature which only enhances the screen door effect. I felt like I was playing the game with a stocking over my face – there is just this constant layer of grain you have to look through to see the actual image. The audio is fantastic with a great score, quality voice acting and plenty of terrifying sound bites. I did have to question why I was hearing howling wind when I was three floors down into a sub-basement.
Layers of Fear VR offers several comfort settings. By default the game uses step-turning and a vignette aperture to help framerate and avoid motion sickness. These are very distracting and I turned them off immediately, but that is up to you and your stomach. Perhaps the biggest detriment to the gameplay is the mandatory use of the Move controllers. I seriously don’t know why they couldn’t have used the DualShock; it worked fine for Resident Evil Biohazard in VR. Instead you are forced to learn these ridiculous controls for moving, turning, strafing, and backing up; all of which use those tiny buttons that feel very unnatural. Even after three hours I will still mixing up crouch and reverse and randomly hitting the button tutorial page. At least you can toggle your movement to sync with your view, so I ended up steering with my head more than these insidious controls.
Layers of Fear VR is fairly short and you can knock out at least one of the three endings in four hours or less. The other endings require various strategies executed throughout the entire game and will require complete restarts to earn those trophies. Personally, I really disliked this game, not because it’s a bad game but because I was playing it on perhaps the worst platform available. The janky graphics and insufferable controls were first and foremost in my mind and only occasional slipped away during an immersive puzzle or super-scary moment. If this were a $5 upgrade for owners of the original game or at least bundled with the non-VR version I would be more inclined to recommend, but as it stands, Layers of Fear VR is a short experience with disappointing graphics and impossible controls that can wait for a sale or maybe a PS Plus freebie. Bloober Team does great horror games but this isn’t one of them.