SPOILERS ABOUND: I advise you not read the main body of text if you haven’t yet played or finished Layers of Fear as there are plot elements that have to be discussed in order to explain the DLC and the majority of its positives and negatives. If that applies, skip on down to the final judgement.
Mind Over Madness
Layers of Fear is one of my favorite horror games of modern times, simply because it does not rely on the same brand of first person horror that games such as Outlast and Slender do. No, Layers of Fear is a horror of the imagination, a descent into paranoia, obsession, and ultimately madness. All this taking place in a large old house that shifts and changes with each delusion. There were certainly some loose ends to the tale, and you’re only really experiencing the viewpoint of one tortured, frustrated artist. What about his wife and the implications made about her state in the story? What about his daughter? Did something awful befall her or not?
Inheritance focuses on the daughter,and it turns out that whatever may or may not have happened to her, she did escape her father’s volatile homestead. So now, many years later, she’s returned to that former home, now a dilapidated shell of its former splendor. The title should give you a clue as to why she’s finally decided to come back to a place that appeared to be the scene of such misery and hurt. Her father is now gone, and the home has been given to her in his will. When the story begins, it does so in the same manner as the main game’s tale, as she steps through the front door and surveys the foyer of the house. This time of course, the foyer is not dimly lit and filled with rich hues of brown and orange: Rather it is cold, dark, and in terrible disrepair. Only the echo of memories are familiar with what we saw previously, the daughter’s memories, and they take Layers of Fear’s already head-spinning manipulation of the environment and push it into somewhere far more surreal.
In the main game, our viewpoint was that of the angry, mad painter and his repeated attempts to perfect his masterpiece, seeing the effect his madness had on his long-suffering wife and innocent child. It portrayed him in a slightly more sympathetic light for the most part, but as the game reached its conclusion we began to see the uglier side of his paranoid obsession. Well, we think we did. By that point, neither the player nor the character seem to know if the viciousness being displayed and explained has actually happened, but you know that at the very least this was a very troubled and angry man indeed.
Here in Inheritance, we get a bit of clarity on the extent of the painter’s rage and insanity as his daughter recalls less than fond memories of his tutelage in the arts from her childhood, and her mother’s painful final days. Each room of the house provides a trigger point for a seemingly repressed memory, each dripping in the game’s trademark dreamlike design. Many of the memories are played from the perspective of the daughter’s childhood height, furthering the already surreal nature of Layers of Fear’s visual tricks with a viewpoint not often seen in first person titles.
Trick of the Light Fantastic
Of course, Inheritance is still Layers of Fear, so the other, more well-traveled tricks from the main game bleed into this DLC as well. You know the ones: creepy dolls, children’s laughter, the scenery changing when your back is turned, that sort of thing. What Inheritance adds is a layer of childhood imagination to the visual design. There’s a scene early on where an entire room is made up of crayon sketches that create what appears to be a park, complete with pathways, trees and a lurking threat slithering in the background. This is completely unlike the scene in the main game where a small, boxed in room was made to look like it was drawn by a child in that this new area bears little resemblance to the architecture of the house proper. Beyond that, there’s some standout moments of surrealism that include a stairwell made up of cluttered children’s toys, a looping room that has a whiff of P.T. to it, and a puzzle involving a toy cat.
Progression strangely doesn’t feel quite as smooth in Inheritance, and that appears to be the combination of the new viewpoint in some sections being coupled with the darkness of the rooms. This leaves you unable to see visual clues for where to go next simply because the lighting is still fixed at the height of a regular person instead of the child’s perspective you’re at. It’s not frustrating, but the illusion of always being led in the right direction by instinct that the main game did so well is diminished as a result.
There is the question of horror that needs addressing. Inheritance does have a few small moments that prickle the hairs on your neck and perhaps one jump scare, but your knowledge of the main story negates much of any threat. There’s far less trepidation and dread to Inheritance than there was with the main game, and that’s simply down to that knowledge that the things you saw in Layers of Fear are more than likely all from a very sick mind, and not a haunted house. Thankfully this doesn’t kill off all sense of dread, but it does make the horror angle a little more toothless.
Inheritance is best treated as a fitting epilogue for the main story then, a way to see the tale of a tortured artist from the eyes of someone who had to live with him. It’s a couple of hours of new takes on old places, and a satisfying conclusion to the tale of the mad painter. If you’re after plentiful scares you will be disappointed, but if you wanted more of the visual head-messing then there’s definitely plenty of that crammed into the slimmer running time. The story itself is quietly fascinating, as each little tidbit sheds new light on the previous protagonist, some ugly, some surprisingly gentle. The ending is, once again, delivered a little more vague if you don’t find the various letters and memory triggers in each section, but if you’ve come this far then you’ll not have any trouble figuring out what’s going on. There’s nothing as impressive as the main game on show here, but it is at least a different take on those themes and environments.