Layers of Fear

Layers of Fear: Legacy: Our In-Depth Review

Do you like horror games but dread being attacked, dying, and losing your hard-earned progress? Layers of Fear: Legacy might be the perfect horror game for you! Explore a sprawling mansion with a menacing past without getting hurt or dying. You won’t fight any foes, either—at least, not physical ones. Your battle is psychological. If you crave action-packed adventure, you may want to pass on this one. But if you like the sound of wandering through a Victorian mansion, solving its puzzles, hallucinating pretty often, and unraveling the secrets of your past, you’ll definitely want to look into Layers of Fear: Legacy on Nintendo Switch.

The more you explore, the more you learn about the story behind this menacing mansion.
Learn the mysterious backstory of this menacing mansion in Layers of Fear.

Control an emotionally disturbed painter wandering the halls of his impossibly vast Victorian mansion and examining found objects in an attempt to piece together his dark past. The game never spells out the painter’s backstory, and it doesn’t pinpoint the exact setting where and when this story takes place, either. However, all clues seem to point to the United States during the late Victorian era, and if you pay attention, you can piece together most of the painter’s life story yourself as you progress through the game. Depending on the choices you make while you play, you’ll unlock one of three endings when you beat the game.

The painter's backstory is never explicitly spelled out. It's up to you to piece the story together as you play through the game.
The painter’s backstory is never explicitly spelled out.

The painter often hallucinates, and his home tends to shift and change in surprising ways. Quaint parlors transform into nightmarish hellscapes. Doors open to brick walls, but when they’re closed and opened again, they lead to dimly lit rooms or hallways. Jump scares occur frequently, and some jump scares are more frightening than others. For us, Layers of Fear wasn’t scary, but it was creepy, and some of its more chilling moments were pretty thrilling.

Sometimes, you hallucinate, seeing things that can't actually be there.
Sometimes, you hallucinate, seeing things that can’t actually be there.

Gameplay revolves around guided exploration, which requires puzzle-solving. Let us explain. Perhaps you’ve been exploring and you’ve found yourself in the bathroom. The door you just passed through is now locked behind you, and all other doors in the bathroom are locked as well, or maybe there just aren’t any other doors in the bathroom. So what might this mean? Well, the game is trying to tell you that you need to solve a puzzle in the bathroom before you can proceed.

The game often locks you in a room if you need to solve a puzzle in that room.
Layers of Fear focuses on guided exploration and puzzle-solving, and it often traps you in a room if you need to solve a puzzle in it.

The game often does this when you need to solve a puzzle. This can be frustrating, since you can’t skip a puzzle if you really don’t know how to solve it. But at the same time, it can be helpful. Going back to our bathroom example, when you’re locked in the bathroom, you know that you have to solve a puzzle in there, so you’re not wandering around the parlor and the entryway and whatever else trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do. You’re just looking for the answer in the bathroom, and you can handle that. Right?

The game often traps you in a room if you need to solve a puzzle in that room.
Being locked in a room in Layers of Fear is frustrating and liberating at the same time.

Some of the early-game puzzles are laughably easy, but they grow sharply more difficult as the game goes on, and you may find yourself consulting online guides more often than you’d like. In our opinion, some of the puzzles are so confusing and convoluted that they suck the fun right out of the game. The really challenging puzzles feature Victorian technology, like phonographs and old-fashioned rotary phones—machines that most of us probably don’t even know how to use. But if you get stuck on a puzzle, you can always check with an online guide and move on. (We definitely had to do this for the phonograph and rotary phone puzzles . . . and we know how to use both of these machines IRL.)

Victorian technology like the phonograph features prominently.
Victorian technology like the phonograph features prominently.

Your sessions of puzzle-solving and exploration are split into six chapters that grow more challenging as you play. At each chapter’s end, you’ll discover a physical and macabre clue that will help you understand your past, and you’ll store these clues in your artist’s studio, where you’ll return after completing each chapter. Your studio contains a bureau with six locked cabinets, one for each chapter. As you complete the chapters and collect the clues, you’ll start unlocking the cabinets and using them to store your clues. The bureau is an excellent way to track your progress visually, since all six cabinets will be open and displaying a clue after completion of the final chapter.

This room serves as your hub. You'll return here after completing each of the game's chapters.
This room serves as your hub, where you’ll return after completing each of the game’s chapters. The bureau sits to your left, but we don’t want to show it to you because we don’t want to spoil anything! 😉

Now we’ll turn to the controls, which are simple enough but will take some getting used to. Doors can be opened by grabbing the handle with ZR and pushing or pulling with the left joystick. You can examine many objects by hovering over them with your pointer and pressing ZR. Your movement is limited to walking; you can’t run or jump. But since nothing can hurt you, there’s really no need for anything more than walking. (Some players might be too impatient to play a game that never lets you run.)

It might not look like it, but nothing can actually hurt you, so there's really no need to run.
It might not look like it, but nothing can actually hurt you, so there’s really no need to run.

During our play-through, some controls didn’t seem to work correctly. For example, in a Victorian-style elevator, we weren’t able to pull the lever to the left in order to go down, and we even had trouble closing the sliding gate, so we had a hard time getting the elevator to move at all. We’re not sure if these problems were technical issues or if we were just doing something wrong, but the trouble was irritating nonetheless; it shouldn’t be so hard to perform simple actions like pulling a lever in a certain direction or closing the gate on an elevator.

We couldn't manage to turn the lever in this elevator lift all the way to the left. We're not sure if this is a technical error or if the lever isn't designed to be pulled all the way to the left.
We couldn’t manage to turn the lever in this elevator lift all the way to the left. We’re not sure if this is a technical error or if the lever isn’t designed to be pulled all the way to the left. Either way, this was frustrating for us.

Now we’ll turn to the game’s graphics and sound, and—spoiler alert!—they’re our favorite thing about this game. No matter where you find yourself in this sprawling mansion, your surroundings are guaranteed to feature intricate design elements, Victorian flair, and a healthy dose of menace. Though the game’s indoor lighting is generally dim and its environments can be hard to see at times, this adds to the overall ambience—but if you’d like to avoid excess darkness, we suggest cranking up the brightness when you set its level before starting the game.

The game's graphics are its strongest suit.
The game’s graphics are its strongest suit.

The game’s graphics are perfectly complemented by a piano-focused soundtrack, which sometimes features choral arrangements and other ominous instrumentation. The piano songs remind us of creepy music box tunes, but they are played in lower octaves to evoke feelings of solemnity, sadness, and regret. The soundtrack’s piano focus is made all the more fitting by the storyline, which features a piano in a significant way. Layers of Fear also boasts a strong soundscape, with creaking doors, squealing rats, and ringing telephones that sound real enough to freak you out, especially if you’re playing alone in the dark.

The graphics are probably the game's best feature.
There may or may not be an actual creepy music box playing in this scene…

On top of the main game, this Legacy port includes the Inheritance DLC. The DLC stars the painter’s adult daughter, who has returned home after her parents’ deaths to collect her inheritance. Some of the DLC takes place in the present, but a large chunk is set in the past, when the daughter was just a tiny child. During flashback sequences, the game does a fantastic job putting you in the shoes of the daughter’s child-self, and when you interact with your environment, you really feel like you really are a tiny child. As you progress through the DLC, you come to terms with your dark past, and the conclusions you draw about your childhood depend on the actions you take during your play-through.

The DLC tries to capture the feeling of being a small child.
The DLC captures the feeling of being a small child.

While the DLC expands the main game’s story, ties up some loose ends, and introduces you to the painter’s daughter, it’s really not as fun as it should be. Most of its puzzles are downright infuriating, making the main game’s most challenging puzzles seem simple by comparison. One DLC puzzle involves helping this toy cat find a replacement forelimb, and trust us when we say that what ensues is ridiculous. (We want to scream at this picture of the cat for what it put us through, and we’re cat people. That says something.)

This cat's puzzle drove us mad beyond words.
This cat’s puzzle drove us to a level of madness that only the painter could understand.

So is Layers of Fear: Legacy a Nintendeal? We think so. Even though the DLC wasn’t our cup of tea and the main game was pretty frustrating at times, we had a great time with this game overall. We really enjoyed exploring the home, especially when the psychedelic visual effects and creepy jump scares were abundant. We’d like the game even more if it focused on free exploration with optional puzzles rather than guided exploration with mandatory puzzles, but you can’t always get exactly what you want in a game, and for what it is, we’re pretty happy with Layers of Fear: Legacy on Switch.

We love the exploration and trippy visuals, but we don't like the heavy puzzle focus. You'll have to decide if Layers of Fear seems right for you.
We love the exploration and trippy visuals, but we don’t like the heavy puzzle focus. You’ll have to decide if Layers of Fear seems right for you.

Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Bloober Team S.A.
Developer – Bloober Team
Price – $19.99
Genre – Adventure, Other
Size –3.1 GB

Nick and Sarah are the ultimate gaming couple. Nick introduced Sarah to the world of Nintendo games. Nick’s favorites are platformers tough as nails, like Super Meat Boy, Celeste, and The End is Nigh. Sarah prefers titles with more exploration and simulation, like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and Skyrim. But Nick and Sarah both agree that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best games of all time!

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