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 celestial 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 affords another attempt at more coherent plot threads and meaningful surprises, but the developers suffer a couple setbacks to achieve that latter objective. Layers of Fear seized any available opportunity to shove a macabre maiden’s visage in our faces. Similarly, Inheritance mistakes frequent and sudden noises ‒ from barking dogs to slamming doors ‒ for palpitating terror. It seems subtitles such as “Inheritance” bear cruel 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 destroyed 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. Fearing a peek at the old basement? Search the bedrooms or studio instead. The memories materialize once you confront objects or areas of importance. As players approach 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 fans receive. And to the DLC’s credit, unlocking all three endings demands 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.
There’s none of that nonsense here, where I couldn’t bury the feeling that I missed plot details after overlooking a wayward piece of paper or knickknack. In Layers of Fear: Inheritance, you construct the daughter’s interpretation of her upbringing. In one instance, when putting art to a canvas, choosing the paintbrush over crayons leads to a separate fantasy. The brush offers a comforting lesson (despite the unearthly imagery), with the father teaching the intricacies of his craft. Opting for the waxy pastel draws his ire.
Again, knowing the dad’s proclivity 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 takes 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 results do matter. Layers of Fear sought some agency for its narrative, yet no matter how many notes players found or what revulsions they uncovered throughout the house, the artist became a miserable, tragic figure. In contrast, I replayed Layers of Fear: Inheritance to witness each conclusion voluntarily, though 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 compose a portrait to your father’s liking (you cannot screw it up) ‒ disregarded my choice of the correct hues unless I used the wrong colors first.
Layers of Fear: Inheritance also resorts to jump scares one too many times. Opening a door? Boom! It bursts open. Wandering a hall? Surprise! A yappy Doberman darts between rooms in front of you. It’s the equivalent of watching a character stare ‒ unwavering ‒ into a lake, out a window, or toward the darkness, then waiting for something to reach out to the camera. The audience anticipates a scare and earns a “scare.” The developers would rather conform to the viewer’s expectations than subvert them.
Bloober Team did not have to spook spectators repeatedly to gain a reaction. Layers of Fear: Inheritance does not bank on grotesque images for its frights. Rather, you see an exaggerated world via the young daughter’s eyes, and as an infant, even the intentions of the family canine appear terrifying.
You know what fazes me? Teasing a scare, but just teasing. Let the panic simmer. P.T. elicited paranoia because its banshee possessed the capacity to do you harm. That doesn’t mean she snapped your neck whenever you crossed her. Layers of Fear and its DLC evoke comparable chills when Bloober Team allows the sinister atmosphere to settle. The developers designed a gorgeous setting that drips tension. Every time Inheritance bothered to go ten seconds without swift audiovisual jolts, the dread gave me goosebumps. Pacing is as vital to the suspense as a shock itself.
Layers of Fear: Inheritance gives fewer surprises away due to the game’s improved technical performance, too. For example, the DLC 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. I did not happen upon any crashes, either, which goes a long way towards maintaining the overall mood.
That hard work means a lot in the horror genre. How easy is it for me to submit to this world of make-believe monsters? For Layers of Fear: Inheritance, it’s effortless. Bloober Team provides characters you can empathize with, without many pitfalls on the software side of things. But its most encouraging aspect is the urge to examine one’s paternal relationships. Perhaps your dad shows appreciation via unorthodox methods; I’m sure he loves you 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.