Not a Pretty Picture
HIGH Fixing the cat toy
LOW Uncomfortable verbal abuse vibes throughout
WTF The development studio is called Bloober Team. Bloober Team? Bloober!
Layers of Fear is a little indie horror game that hit earlier this year. I reviewed it and liked it an awful lot. Sure, it might not be much more than a linear first-person romp through a haunted house without a trace of combat, but it’s my kind of romp.
My favorite aspect of Layers of Fear was its ability to instill suspense by altering the physical space around players. For example, I might reach the end of a creepy hallway and open a door that reveals a brick wall. With the obvious exit now blocked, I’d scratch my head and turn around only to discover the hallway I just walked down has now completely changed. I love that stuff because despite the game’s overall linearity, it still kept me in a state of disquiet and unease.
I had no idea how successful Layers of Fear would be because it launched quietly. To be honest, I imagined the developer might fold completely due to a lack of hype and awareness surrounding their work. It must have done well enough, as I was pleasantly surprised to learn Bloober Team crafted a DLC chapter called Inheritance. Because I enjoyed the original game so much, I was both happy to get more… and also a little scared that it wouldn’t measure up.
Layers of Fear’s story prior to the DLC involved a famous painter on a downward psychological spiral after some unfortunate calamities with his family. As a result, his young daughter was removed by the state. In Inheritance, players return to the painter’s old mansion as his now-adult daughter in search of explanations and to gain closure for his behavior.
I was eager to revisit the creepy mansion Fear offered, but I finished Inheritance in 80 minutes. It’s short, but Layers of Fear was only about 4 hours long, so it’s proportionate. That said, the length seems a bit underwhelming, and especially so since Inheritance feels like an epilogue chapter that was cut from the full game.
Bloober Team took some criticism for featuring too many text documents as a means of storytelling, so now the painter’s daughter narrates several segments and explores dialogue-filled playable childhood flashbacks. This isn’t a bad thing, but the stench of overcorrecting lingers in the air along with the stale paint and thinner.
The flashback sequences contain the bulk of my issues with Inheritance. The daughter (can we give these people names please?!?) is about 6 years old in them, so the camera is low to the ground. She moves slow, and everything is presented in a weird yellow-tinted wide angle. I wouldn’t mind that viewpoint sparingly, but it comprises half the DLC.
Beyond that, the most disappointing facet of Inheritance is that it’s simply not scary, and it doesn’t capitalize on the aforementioned spatial awareness tricks, either. It amounts to exploring a small section of the mansion, listening to the daughter talk about her dad, and playing through flashbacks.
It’s worth noting that due to her father’s psychological problems, many flashback instances involve him being somewhat verbally abusive to her. It’s never physical nor over-the-top, but players who have damaged or strained relationships with guardians might feel uncomfortable in the daughter’s shoes. In most flashbacks the painter is either yelling at his daughter for something (being in an off-limits room, making too much noise, and so on) or he’s telling her she’s worthless at whatever activity she’s pursuing. This might be considered triggering for some players. This type of discomfort might very well be what Inheritance is aiming for, but it feels a little insensitive to me, and I have a pretty healthy relationship with my parents.
Although I’m glad Bloober Team is stable enough to produce DLC for their prior work, the end result is purely mediocre. Inheritance doesn’t bring any of what I loved most about Layers of Fear back to the canvas, and instead feels like an unnecessary epilogue. It’s a shame, but like the work of Fear’s own tortured painter, not everything can be a masterpiece.
Disclosures: Layers of Fear is developed by Bloober Team and published by Aspyr Media, Inc. It is currently available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. The copy of this game was obtained via publisher code and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 2.5 hours of play were spent with it. The DLC was completed two times. No multiplayers modes exist.
Parents: According to the ESRB Layers of Fear is rated Mature for violence, blood, partial nudity, alcohol references and strong language. As I mentioned in my review, several segments feature a young version of the female protagonist being yelled at by her psychologically damaged father. The situations never approach physical abuse, but are nevertheless uncomfortable. Players with sensitivities involving verbal child abuse should probably steer clear of this.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Subtitles are available for all of the dialogue. Due to this being a narrative horror game, several jump scares and atmosphere building situations depend on audio cues, music and noises. Layers of Fear won’t be difficult to play for hard-of-hearing players, but the suspense and horror will be much less impactful.
Remappable Controls: Control buttons can’t be remapped. X and Y axes can be set to standard or inverted. Stick acceleration and sensitivity can be adjusted.
Colorblind Modes: No colorblind options are available.