Layers of Fear:
“If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
-Vincent Van Gogh
Remember this as you walk through the eerie halls of Layers of Fear, as it sadly is the complete opposite for the poor protagonist artist. Layers of Fear has seemingly coined the term “psychedelic horror” for its genre, and appropriately so. For the most part, Layers is like nothing I have ever played before. Alone and on the verge somewhere between madness and sanity is your character, the artist. Plagued with doubt about your artistic abilities, you have one goal: finish it. Finish your Magnum Opus, the piece you will be remembered for. But what you soon come to realize in your mansion is the mind can play horrible tricks on itself when pushed to the brink, and the player soon falls victim to its tricks.
In essence, Layers is an immersive experience. There is no fighting to survive or solving of deadly puzzles, but more of a roughly 5-6 hour long trip through an intense haunted house. This is not a bad thing though, as I grew up with hands-off horror experiences. One of those experiences that most closely mimics the one you’ll find in Layers is an older title simply called D. I have never met many people who had the chance to play it, but it was a similar title where you explored a desolate building with collectibles and puzzles in mind. Memories of that game still give me chills today, and Layers delivered to send those same chills up my spine time and time again. Though I could have used more puzzles to give me a sense of involvement, the team at Bloober put forward a really cool take on traditional immersive horror games.
In addition to the transitions, the general atmosphere is terrific. The game is dark, both in tone and quite literally. There is a thickness and depth to the darkness that surrounds you, giving a realistic feel when you see shadows of figures in the distance. The player is really put in the shoes of the artist so to speak, and it helps keep you reeled in. At standstills, you can notice his head bobbing ever so slightly. When walking, you’ll notice an apparent limp that he carries, and it shows even more when traversing steps. I cannot recall any other title that has done this with a way a first person character carries themselves. It is a fantastic way to feel like part of the game. The sound cues bring the whole package together, whether it is the echoes of a crying baby, pianos playing with no piano in sight, or thunder cackling just outside the windows, every bit of detail makes the experience more gripping. I only wish that the artist’s voice had some range, because he is sadly very dull when narrating collectibles and memories. Visually the game is impressive as well. The lighting of scenes is amazing, and the ghostly movements of objects is seamless which is haunting. There are some texture imbalances though. Things like furniture and paintings look great, but fruit and fires look blocky and dated. That in addition to some screen drags take away from what is otherwise a visually striking game.
I really enjoyed my time with Layers of Fear. It was creepy and cool, and overall just hit everything I want in a horror setting. The conclusion of the game was awesome, albeit a little brief, but had one of those great “whoa” moments that makes you consider everything you just did. I really hope at some point this title gets translated to a VR experience because the framework is clearly there. Though the story lacked depth, the setting and sheer cool factor of the game sold me. I’m ready for another run through the halls to snag everything, and take in this work of art.
When I covered Layers of Fear earlier this year, I had a certain affection for the game. Praising it for its cool themes and stellar transitions, it was an experience I was delighted to have been a part of. My biggest gripe with the title, however, was the lack of focus on the actual narrative, which was there but hard to interpret. Layers of Fear: Inheritance takes all the good about the base title while fixing my biggest gripe, adding more narrative details in a quick but solid expansion. While maintaining a very similar experience, both in setting and tone, but focuses on a new perspective. That perspective is in the form of the base game's protagonist lineage, or more specifically so his daughter. She presents a much more enlightening narrative in the players roughly two hour trek throughout her childhood home, giving insight on both her parents and her traumatic upbringing. While some moments are somber, the scares and hallucinations are still in full effect.
It’s a short package, but at only $5 it’s more than fair. If you are a fan of the base title, this is a no brainer. While some of its segments felt inconsistent, as a whole it delivers everything good about the original while maintaining better story telling. It’s still visually jarring and trippy, albeit a bit too foggy at points, but the atmosphere is always there. With better commentary from your character, and even quips (like a light scream when a candelabra falls over) you get to feel more in tune with who the player is taking control of. Should there be a sequel or spiritual successor, Bloober Team is on the right path with their take on story telling. Inheritance brings the story as a whole to a satisfying conclusion, serving as a pseudo pentimento for the title, touching up this piece of art where it needed it most.
Recently I was given the chance to revisit Layers of Fear. This time around, I got to check it out on Switch. Released earlier this year, Layers of Fear Legacy is the full package, featuring the base game as well as its post release DLC episode. I initially reviewed both pieces on Xbox One, and I am delighted to say, this bundle runs really well on the Switch. For those who have not had the chance to experience the scares of an artists twisted fantasies, the Switch is definitely a good way to give it a go.
Performance wise, things seem to be running smoothly in the roughly two hours I invested once more in it. The game has a lot of moving pieces when it masterfully transitions from scene to scene, and from what I saw, all of this ran like clockwork on the Switch. The graphics department seemingly took no cuts either, looking stunning. The lighting and textures all look stellar, and the environments are still massively impressive. One new feature is the involvement of touch controls, which don’t quite fit the bill here. They are gimmicky at best, and easily avoidable thankfully. Just stick to the basics and everything will be a-okay.
At $20, you get your money’s worth without a doubt, essentially getting the Inheritance episode as a freebie in this bundle. Layers of Fear is a killer game through and through. While I had some minor complaints during the first go-around, it is still a highly memorable and enjoyable experience. If you have not had the chance to play it yet, the Switch version is not a bad place to start, giving you everything the console equivalents had and then some in this great bundle offer.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 7.5/10
+Fantastic Setting and Environment
+Truly Chilling Scenes
-Some Technical Downfalls
-Poor Story Structure, But Improved in Inheritance