Wearing its influences and title like badges of honor, horror enthusiasts expected more than an endless barrage of jump scares from Layers of Fear, but the mortals at Bloober Team failed to oblige. Players did not control a saint, a respected family man, or an average Joe caught up in machinations orchestrated by almighty powers. Layers of Fear focused on a darker side of the creative process, on the sacrilege an artist would commit in the name of his magnum opus.
So why was I fighting back yawns?
Layers of Fear: Inheritance is a do-over of sorts. As an epilogue to the core game, this slice of DLC takes another shot at a rational plot and meaningful surprises, but the developers suffer setbacks to achieve that second objective. Layers of Fear seized every opportunity to shove a disfigured maiden in our faces. Inheritance follows suit, mistaking frequent and sudden noises ‒ from snarling mutts to slamming doors ‒ for actual terror. It seems subtitles such as “Inheritance” bear weighty connotations, too.
A more sensible story, however, is something I can muster interest for. Layers of Fear wove its tale. With remorse, selfishness, or off-the-deep-end delirium, the developers brought the father and mother’s arcs to a close. But whatever happened to their daughter? Players return to the game’s demented manor in Layers of Fear: Inheritance, stepping into the role of a woman no longer innocent and naive to the madness that gripped her childhood home.
Gameplay-wise, players still interact with their surroundings by mimicking various motions on a controller or keyboard/mouse, like pulling open doors and drawers. What waits within? Will the painter’s darling princess excuse her dad for physically and mentally sacrificing himself to his work? The outcome rests with you. Our protagonist revisits a site of emotional trauma, but the estate is not haunted by a specter’s presence. The mansion is the antagonist.
In a house devoured by rot and mold, Layers of Fear: Inheritance delivers most of its narrative through a series of flashbacks. Avoiding a peek at the old basement? Search the bedrooms or studio instead. The memories coalesce once you approach objects or areas of importance. As players inspect a closet littered with mouse traps, for example, the visuals cut to the past.
You’re in the crawl space, and you hear your father’s bellowing outside. He believes rats have taken up an unwanted residence under the stairs. Storming towards the door, the heavy fall of footsteps on wood conveys outrage with each stride. Do you slide the lock into place to shield yourself from his wrath, or let him catch you toying about in a setting unsafe for kids? Which alternative depicts the man in a flattering light?
Layers of Fear: Inheritance provides several visions, the culminations of which determine what conclusion you’ll receive. And to the DLC’s credit, unlocking each of the endings calls for less planning than it did in the main game. Ogle a photograph too long or run away from a hostile poltergeist and ‒ oops! ‒ your masterpiece transformed from a family sketch into the father’s self-portrait. How egotistical of you.
Previously, I could not shake the feeling that I’d missed vital parts of the story after overlooking stray journals or knickknacks. There’s none of that nonsense here. Layers of Fear: Inheritance alters the daughter’s interpretation of her upbringing according to the player’s decisions. In one instance, when putting art to a canvas, favoring the paintbrush over crayons leads to separate fantasies. The brush offers a comforting lesson (despite the unearthly imagery), with the father teaching the intricacies of his craft. Opting for the waxy pastels draws his ire.
Again, knowing the dad’s penchant for outbursts and sadistic threats, can you forgive his prior transgressions? Learning to paint involves harsh constructive criticism, but the girl realizes her papa meant well. If you pursue the more, well, “immature” avenue of art, the flashback brings viewers to a dreamscape with ominous twists on “Little Red Riding Hood.” It ends with the girl concluding her father did not want a child, he wanted a successor. Anything insignificant to his legacy he deemed a distraction.
The choices pay off. Layers of Fear wanted fans to influence the narrative, but no matter how many diaries you found, how many revelations you uncovered throughout the house, the artist became a miserable, tragic figure. Layers of Fear: Inheritance offers three endings, each more different than the last. Although I sought them out voluntarily, glitches complicated that task.
Some events would not trigger properly. On my second playthrough, that whole paintbrush or crayon scenario did not activate until I reloaded the game. I decided on the former option then, and the ensuing events ‒ where you must produce a portrait to your father’s liking (you cannot screw it up) ‒ ignored the correct choice unless I used the wrong colors first.
Layers of Fear: Inheritance also resorts to jump scares one too many times. A Doberman may dart between rooms as you wander the walls, and doors will burst open while grasping for the knob. That’s the equivalent of watching movie characters stare ‒ unwavering ‒ at a lake, out a window, or into the darkness, then waiting for the killer to reach for the camera. The audience anticipates a scare and earns a “scare.” The developers would rather conform to the viewer’s expectations than subvert them.
You know what fazes me? Teasing a scare. Let the panic levels simmer before sending your boogeyman to munch on my bones. Or don’t. The threat of an otherworldly run-in still leaves a mark, and it’s why Silent Hills’ cancellation yielded such a vocal reaction. Aside from the talent attached to it, P.T. understood helplessness. The demo elicited paranoia because the banshee could do you harm ‒ only a few confrontations ended with your broken neck.
Layers of Fear and its DLC produce comparable chills when Bloober Team allows the sinister atmosphere to settle. The developers devised a gorgeous setting that drips tension, and every time Inheritance bothered to go ten seconds without some shallow audiovisual jolts, the dread gave me goosebumps. Players get to see an exaggerated world through a young girl’s eyes, an age at which even the family canine’s intentions appear terrifying.
Layers of Fear: Inheritance gives fewer encounters away due to the game’s improved technical performance, too. The lack of crashes is a nice touch, but the DLC also moves at a stable sixty frames per second. As those digits dipped in Layers of Fear proper, fans knew the story had loaded the next conga line of screams and flickering lights. Now those shoddy bulbs and ceiling fixtures help maintain the overall mood.
That stability means a lot in the horror genre. How easy is it for me to submit to your world of make-believe monsters? For Layers of Fear: Inheritance, without many pitfalls on the software side of things, it’s effortless. Bloober Team provides characters you can empathize with, with a scare or two that made my heart skip. But the most encouraging aspect is the urge to let go of familial grudges. Although some dads show appreciation via unorthodox methods, they love their kids nevertheless.
This review is based on the PC version of the DLC, which we were provided.
With a solid script and fewer unrelenting jump scares than the original game, Layers of Fear: Inheritance offers closure for both the player and characters.