Just like almost any other horror game made in the last five or so years, Layers of Fear seems perfectly suited to VR support. Bloober Team’s first-person chiller released on PC and console earlier this year to a decent reception. Critics and players loved the mind games the developer played with them, and the haunting atmosphere that hung in every room, all of which you’d imagine might have been boosted by the incredible immersion that high-end headsets afford.
It’s a little strange, then, to find the game running on Daydream, of all places.
Layers of Fear: Solitude is essentially a stripped down version of the original game. You get the same story, environments, and jump scares, with a lot of compromises made to fit it onto a phone. Understandably, it’s taken a hit in the graphics department, many of the interactive doors, draws and items have been removed, and the structure has become far more linear, forever hurrying the player into the next room and locking the door behind them.
It’s also crammed rather awkwardly onto Daydream’s controller, removing free movement and instead getting you to teleport between pre-defined spots. It’s probably the best job Bloober or any other developer could have done taking a game pad-based console game and putting it on mobile VR, but that doesn’t mean it’s especially good.
Solitude tells the tale of a painter tormented by his struggles with alcohol. Once a proud family man, the unnamed protagonist becomes obsessive and neglects his wife and daughter, especially following a horrific incident. Now, years on, we join him endlessly trying to create another masterpiece that always comes out as horrific, demonic pictures. In between attempts he explores his house, where he is tortured by illusions.
It doesn’t take long to figure out what you’re getting with Solitude. Though its study of a man that fell from grace is engaging and often unflinching, it only serves as a reason to move from room to room, be subjected to a cheap jump scare, and then rinse and repeat. The shocks come thick and fast, but you can’t die so there’s no real threat behind them, and their effectiveness quickly wanes.
You start to see environments that telegraph where their scares are going to come from by placing items by walls to make you turn around. Sometimes the warp points will be limited as the developer needs you in a specific spot to open its next snake in a nut can. You have to open every door slowly, and you get tired of waiting for the one that something will be behind (it happens about half way through). It’s all terribly predictable and, while these moments will still make you jump, there’s no lingering sense of dread in between them, just frustration.
That said, some of the game’s trippy sequences make their mark better in VR. A section with flying dolls heads had me avoiding the temptation to duck and dive, for example. It’s just a shame none of these were really engineered for VR, or they could have been far more memorable. These are the same old scares you were first meant to see on a 2D screen, and it’s a missed opportunity not to take the game’s core themes and make something native to headsets.
Much of the game’s story is gleaned from reading notes scattered about the environment, but they don’t seem to have been edited to make up for Daydream’s screen door effect, making the text in many very hard to read. I could continue to list the issues, but I think the point is pretty clear: this is not a very good port of a game that should have been much better in VR.