Layers of Smoke
I considered Layers of Fear to be one of the most refreshing titles to grace the video game horror genre in quite some time. Its haunting story, combined with the amazing technique of twisting and reshaping rooms behind and sometimes right in front of my eyes, made me feel uncomfortable and actually scared, something I rarely experience while playing games today. So when I heard its first story DLC, Layers of Fear: Inheritance, was unleashed into digital space I jumped at the opportunity to cautiously walk through the constantly contorting, paint-splashed, mansion once again.
The story here is told through the eyes of the protagonist of the original game’s daughter who has returned to the mansion to face her demons. I believe the goal here is that the developer Bloober Team knew players received the closure they sought of the protagonist and his wife’s story, but the conclusion of their child’s tale never was told to completion. I can tell you that if your looking for a wrap up of the whole family history, you will definitely find it here with a bow placed nicely on top, but the way Bloober Team taped up the package leaves the final result looking like a bit of a mess.
From the start of the game you will get a bit of a narrative from the daughter describing what an evil parent her father was and how insanity is known to run in her family. She’s determined to make the insanity stop by returning to the mansion on her own, which in my opinion probably isn’t the smartest thing to do. The intro is short and sweet, but you’ll probably realize right way that treading through the mansion with a person who has a better head on their shoulders may make things feel a bit different. I felt that having a soft-spoken protagonist make joking comments throughout Inheritance took a significant amount of fear I felt playing the original away. I’m not saying she’s constantly joking around, but the few times she does I couldn’t help to roll my eyes and push on. There are also a few other instances while walking through the decaying halls that you will hear the voices of the parents arguing and these moments seem really forced with actors yelling lines that sound like they came from a cheesy re-enacted story about domestic violence. As I said, the story wraps up at the end and you will get closure, but it’s getting to the finale that felt just off.
The gameplay from the original is mostly the same here. You will hold the trigger button to grasp door handles and push or pull the left stick to open or close them. The noticeable limp from the main game’s protagonist is obviously gone so those that got seasick from Layers of Fear’s constantly swaying camera trick can rest easy. Little artifacts can be picked up and inspected in a nice 360 degree viewing mode and small scraps of paper piecing the story together can be collected and read. Once you are in the game’s many flashback scenes you will immediately notice most areas to be unreachable due to you being a child. The flashbacks were hard to get used to because I just felt like I couldn’t see anything and was constantly having to look up thinking I was missing a key piece of the story. A few of these scenes had items that were needed to progress the story way out of reach, but like all video games there were random pieces of the environment coincidentally placed in just the right spots. One very long flashback in particular was so smoky due to the house being on fire that I couldn’t see much of anything high or low making navigation extremely frustrating. The only way I could find my next objective was to just keep finding the walls and sticking to them while walking, just hoping I’d see a door to finally put an end to the scene. When I did eventually find a door it just would be another smoky room that I’d have to fumble around to find another exit. It just seemed to go on and on. However, when not in a flashback the game was just as mysterious as the original with pieces of furniture floating and moving on their own and a musical score that made everything in the house seem alive.
The DLC as a whole has a handful of missteps, but the when something extraordinary happens it’s often very memorable. One highlight in particular is a sequence in Inheritance where you can hear your father telling you to paint a picture for him. He keeps telling you what to add and it’s up to you to find the correct paint to please his desires. Each layer of paint you add, starting with a simple crayon layer, makes the room change around you. It reminded me so much of the original Layers of Fear and really had me feeling uncomfortable. It’s this sequence that had me playing the game multiple times to get the different conclusions because it’s that good. From start to finish I was able to complete the story in about 1.5 hours. It begs to be played multiple times and I can safely say the endings are all good in their own right. A few branching paths in key areas of the game will also pull you back in for another playthrough, because like the original, many rooms have their own story to be told.
Layers of Fear: Inheritance offers fans of the first game a fresh perspective by roaming through the mansion with a new set of eyes. I think if you really enjoyed the first game you will be pleased to see what new glimpses of backstory Bloober Team has in store for you. Its not all perfection like I believe the first game was, but I think what’s here makes a solid addition.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Aspyr ; Developer: Bloober Team ; Players: 1; Released: August 2, 2016; Genre: Horror; MSRP: $4.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on a review code supplied by the game’s publisher.