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Layers of Fear

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Bloober Team
Release Date: Feb. 21, 2018

About David Silbert

I'm a recent college graduate from Boston, MA. When I'm not writing for WorthPlaying, I'm probably researching Celtics trade rumors or struggling to keep up with the growing library on my Nintendo Switch.


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Switch Review - 'Layers of Fear: Legacy'

by David Silbert on July 11, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Layers of Fear is a psychedelic horror that will keep you on-edge for the reminder of the game.

Buy Layers of Fear

Horror games have straddled an interesting line over the past couple of years. Whereas some series like Dead Space and The Evil Within put players in action-packed, gunplay-heavy roles, others like Observer and SOMA offer slower experiences that focus more on tense exploration and strong storytelling. In some cases, such as Resident Evil VII ditching the series' usual third-person camera view, we have even seen both sides of the horror genre blend together in new and innovative ways.

Layers of Fear: Legacy, developed and published by Bloober Team, leans far more toward the exploration and storytelling side of horror than the action side. There's no combat to be found, nor is there sprinting, taking cover, or hiding. Rather, the game tasks players with navigating an old, creepy house to unravel the mystery behind a tortured painter and his family.

While it may not be the most inventive horror game of the generation, Legacy impresses with its tightly woven narrative, excellent sound design, and genuine scares. Its technical issues, both docked and undocked, break the immersion from time to time, but Legacy is a great package on the Nintendo Switch and the closest you'll ever get to experiencing a full-fledged P.T.-like horror experience.

Though Legacy only launched on the Switch earlier this year, the original Layers of Fear experience dates back to 2016. The game puts players in control of a deranged painter who comes home after a period of time to finish his magnum opus. However, events quickly take a turn for the macabre, as the main character suffers repeated hallucinations within a house that seems to bend, distort and warp itself around him. As he explores the dark, decrepit house, the painter rediscovers letters and objects that help him relive his tragic history.

In August 2016, the Inheritance DLC was released. Without spoiling much, the new story segment put players in control of a new protagonist, it provides new mechanics while fleshing out the story of the base game.

While PC, PS4 and Xbox One owners had to wait nearly half a year between Layers of Fear and Inheritance, the two campaigns are neatly bundled together for the Switch in Legacy. This definitive version also sports Switch-specific capabilities, such as motion controls, touch-screen support, and portable play. Although the added control methods feel rather tacked-on, the addition of handheld mode is bound to provide added incentive for horror fans (even those who've already played Layers of Fear) to play Legacy.

Like many other first-person adventure/horror games, Legacy revolves around exploration. Players are immediately dropped into a mysterious house with plenty of hidden secrets waiting to be unearthed. While navigating the rooms, hallways, and cellars of the painter's Victorian-era mansion, players can rummage through shelves and cabinets in search of clues that cast some light on the narrative. A brief button press and flick of the analog stick (or Joy-Con) allows players to unlock doors, pull on drawers, and open up chests.

For the most part, searching will uncover supplementary letters and notes that reveal important key details on the painter's life. A paper with a hastily written reminder to buy alcohol reveals a dangerous addiction, while a photo of a young pianist hints that the painter's wife was a creative artist like him. As players find more documents like these, they'll slowly piece together the greater narrative and twists locked inside thehaunted house.

At other times, exploration is mandatory to progress in the overall campaign. The game is fairly linear, steering players from room to room in a house that constantly twists and turns in a very cinematic manner. You'll find the occasional locked doors, hinting that a little more exploration is needed to find a key or other important clue in the environment. For the most part, however, Layers of Fear is a linear affair that places atmosphere and tension above the player agency of games like Resident Evil and The Evil Within.

While that may sound like a detriment, it's far from one. There's a feeling of vulnerability as you walk from room to room in Layers of Fear, without so much as a weapon with which to defend yourself. Sure, it's not like there are "enemies" in the traditional sense. At the same time, however, Layers of Fear manages to keep things scary in spite of the lack of traditional monsters or zombies. Expect plenty of jump-scares, from paintings flying off walls to windows slamming unexpectedly. Throw in the unpredictability of a house that could change at any moment, and Legacy is quite honestly one of the most nerve-wracking games I've played in recent memory ... and I loved every second of it.

While the gameplay is addicting in its tension — the free-form nature of the house taught me to never trust my surroundings — Layers of Fear balances out the scares with a rewarding story. Around every corner and after every jump-scare is a letter or photo that adds context to the painter's life story. The game does a great job of leaving a trail of story hints without giving away much of the later twists and turns. While the occasional narrative thread may feel a bit on the nose, the story of the painter and his disturbing artistic masterpiece rivals those of acclaimed adventure games like Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch in terms of detail and nuance.

Helping to elevate both Layers of Fear's gameplay and its narrative atmosphere is the excellent sound design. As you navigate the eerie and unpredictable mansion, expect to be just as scared from what you hear as what you see on-screen. From the thunderous, sudden crashes of windows and piano fallboards to the unsettling crunch of creaky floorboards and the unnerving sound cue that accompanies particular jump scares, the audio in Legacy goes a long way toward anchoring the atmosphere and immersion of the game world. Make sure to play with headphones when possible.

Unfortunately, for as good as the audio, gameplay, and story happen to be, Layers of Fear is held back by some unfortunate technical issues. I encountered some rough frame rates, both when docked to a television and when playing on the go, especially when turning quickly in larger rooms. These frame drops were hardly a deal-breaker, as they never inhibited my ability to play through the game. That said, they certainly pulled me out of the experience when they occurred, and given the importance Layers of Fear dedicates to immersion, the graphical woes can be a bit disappointing.

Despite some minor performance issues and the occasional on-the-nose writing, Layers of Fear: Legacy is a fantastic horror experience for Switch owners. You get two great stories, both accessible right from the menu screen — I highly recommend you play the main story before Inheritance, though — that offer gripping tales and shocking scares. Better yet, both are playable in portable mode, ensuring that the courageous and unafraid can get their fill of terror before bed. It may not be P.T. in name, but for those seeking that same level of atmosphere and hallway-twisting tension, Legacy fits the bill.

Score: 8.6/10

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