Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear is a psychological horror video game developed by Bloober Team and published by Aspyr. It was released on Linux, Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One worldwide in February 2016.
|Layers of Fear|
In Layers of Fear, the player controls a psychologically disturbed painter who is trying to complete his magnum opus as he navigates a Victorian mansion revealing secrets about his past. The gameplay, presented in first-person perspective, is story-driven and revolves around puzzle-solving and exploration. Layers of Fear: Inheritance was released on 2 August 2016 as a direct follow up add-on to the first game. This time the player controls the painter's daughter with the downloadable content focusing on her apparent relapse into trauma after returning to her old house.
A definitive port for the Nintendo Switch, entitled Layers of Fear: Legacy, was released on 21 February 2018 and it features, in addition to the Inheritance DLC, Joy-Con, touchscreen, and HD Rumble support. A limited physical retail release for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, published by Limited Run Games in North America, would be available starting October 2018. A sequel titled Layers of Fear 2 was announced in October 2018 and was released on May 29, 2019.
The player takes control of an artist who has returned to his studio. His initial goal is to complete his masterpiece, and the player's role is to figure out how this task should be accomplished. The challenge comes from puzzles which require the player to search the environment for visual clues. The house appears straightforward at first, but it changes around the player as they explore it in first person. These changes in the environment provide scaffolding for the puzzles and provide regular jump scares common to games of this genre.
The game is divided into six chapters with various items for the player to find in order to complete his work. The game is heavily dimmed, and there are objects that uncover certain aspects of the painter's history. While completing the painting, there is a letter that is slowly pieced together, which shows the origin of his masterpiece, and objects which explain the secret of the painter through dialogue flashbacks.
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Set in the 1920s United States, the unnamed protagonist returns home from a court hearing. After briefly exploring his empty house, he goes to his workshop to start working on his "magnum opus". After he adds the first layer, he starts having hallucinations about his past encounters.
The man was an ambitious young painter who used his pianist wife as a model for his painting. Soon his wife became pregnant and she bore a daughter. After she gave birth, he decided to spend more time working on his paintings, leaving his wife to care for their daughter. After buying a dog for his family, he started to have drinking problems due to constant stress and noise outside his workshop. He attached a muzzle to the dog, but was soon plagued by rats, likely a figment of his schizophrenia. The dog may have later been killed by him.
His talent started to slowly decay and his vision for the painting became twisted, and he began to drive away his friends by painting gory and horrific works for simple jobs, including a set of illustrations for Little Red Riding Hood. After a long period of neglect, his wife decided to burn his paintings, including his most cherished work, "The Lady In Black". He had a drunken fit and apparently beat her, driving her to leave with their child. He tried calling her multiple times but failed to reconcile with her. After some time, he got a phone call telling him that she was critically injured in a fire. She ended up horribly disfigured, but their daughter survived.
After the fire, he took his wife, now a wheelchair user, and daughter back home so he could take care of them. His drinking problems continued due to the constant "distractions" of their presence. After regaining her ability to walk, the wife was neglected even more because her husband thought she lacked "beauty". After he had another drunken outburst, his wife committed suicide by slitting her wrists in the bathroom. In the present day, it is revealed that he went insane and possibly took six body parts of his wife to work on his painting: her skin as the canvas, her blood as the overlay, her bone marrow as the undercoating, a brush made from her hair, her finger for the smearing and her eye as the spectator. The character is shown using these items, but considering the cyclical nature of one of the endings and the general ambiguous nature of what is shown throughout the story, it's possible that this isn't meant to be taken literally.
There are three different endings featured in the game, each depending on the player's actions during the course of the game.
The endless loop ending shows that the artist was working on a portrait of his wife as the masterpiece. He seemingly succeeds in creating the painting, and steps back to admire it only to see the figure of his wife devolve into a mutilated figure that proceeds to taunt him. Horrified, he grabs the painting and hurls it into a room full of identical paintings, all of which begin to laugh. It is revealed that the painter spent years shut in his house working on the same picture multiple times trying to perfect it in a cycle of obsessive mental deterioration. If the player enters the room where the artist threw the painting into, it is revealed that all the portraits are well made and resemble the artist's wife, but he can only see them as a disfigured mess. Returning to the studio, he unveils a blank canvas and begins working on the next painting, further continuing his self-destructive cycle as the screen fades to black.
The family ending is much the same, but this time he puts his child in the painting too. He then realizes the horrible mistakes he has made, and that he can never bring them back, no matter how many times he tries. He goes to the room upstairs and burns all of his previous paintings along with his finished work before laying down and dying in the fire.
The selfish ending ends with a portrait of himself as his final attempt. Being finally satisfied, he decides to hang it in the room upstairs. The next shot goes to his painting on a display at a museum among other famous Victorian artists.
The Inheritance downloadable content add-on tells the story of the painter's daughter coming back to her childhood home to face her past after she left "The St. Martin de Porres Home for Problem Children". Beginning in the 1960s, exploring the destroyed home with a flashlight, she relives her experiences and witnesses the full scope of the tragedy that has swallowed up the family.
During the course of these relived memories, there are different outcomes depending on the daughter's actions. These include deliberate choices, such as heading more often towards the mother or father portrait while exploring, which will lead to remembered dialogue portraying the mother or father, respectively, in a more favorable light. Non-deliberate choices involve the daughter having to perform in-game tasks that often affect an interaction with the father. One example involves the daughter creating artwork, where the daughter could create childish drawings with crayons (earning harsh disapproval from the father), or where the daughter can paint along with the father's suggestions (earning praise if done correctly). These outcomes can lead to the daughter either viewing the father as a harsh man who never wanted anything but a protegee, or viewing the father as a caring man who had trouble showing it.
The "good" ending occurs if most of the memories lead to the daughter viewing the artist favorably. Upon entering her old bedroom, the daughter sees a portrait of her with a flower - her inheritance by her father. She views this portrait as an apology, "expressed in the only language [the artist] ever truly knew". Seeing the father as a tragic figure, who was driven insane and depressed by the memories of the house, takes the portrait and burns the house down. As the house burns, the daughter leaves accepting she cannot understand the artist, but can forgive him. The portrait is later shown hanging in the daughter's home, while the daughter admires her own child's drawings. However, the scene ends with the daughter criticizing her child's choice in color - mirroring the same statement the artist made years ago - while the portrait distorts, heavily implying that the daughter is now beginning to experience the same mental imbalance and obsession over perfection as her father.
The "bad" ending occurs if most of the memories lead to the daughter viewing the artist negatively. Upon entering her old bedroom, and seeing the portrait of her, the daughter continues having flashbacks of the artist yelling at her for crying and making noise. Still viewing the portrait as an apology, the daughter thinks of the artist's smugness in thinking a painting would resolve her bad childhood. Viewing the portrait as not enough of an apology, in a room filled with bad memories, the daughter smashes it against a dresser. The action inadvertently knocking over a lit candelabra. Fire engulfs the room, leading the ceiling to collapse both trapping and burying the daughter in the burning house.
The "true" ending appears if the daughter collects all nine of her crayon drawings present throughout the house, and is able to rearrange them - with the lights on - to reveal a larger portrait of her. In darkness, a hidden sketch of a large rat reveals a map of the house, showing a marked location the daughter can now find. Realizing her father planted this clue knowing that she would see it, the daughter realizes her true inheritance is seeing the world as her father had. Upon following the map and finding a covered canvas, the daughter remembers being told that "insanity runs in my family", and decides to "let it run". This ending closes on the canvas being unveiled to show the same first layer the artist started with for his story, and the decrepit room appearing bright and intact as it had for the artist.
Layers of Fear was heavily inspired by P.T., a teaser game for the cancelled video game, Silent Hills. The plot, in particular the ending with the blank canvas, closely parallels Anthony M. Rud's short story "A Square of Blank Canvas" from the April 1924 issue of Weird Tales. The game uses the Unity game engine.
Nick Monroe of The Escapist praised the game. "A magnum opus (...) A superb example of making story and atmosphere work together (...) Layers of Fear achieves its goal of making you scared as a player, instead of just existing as something scary". Matt Ferguson from Syfy Games praised the storytelling calling it "Perfection" and saying the game was, "an evocatively thrilling horror game: it strikes a fantastic balance between narrative, gameplay, atmospheric immersion." Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku said "Layers of Fear is one of the biggest horror surprises of the year." Danielle Riendeau and Dave Tach of Polygon said "Layers of Fear is like P.T. on drugs." Matt Thrower from GameSpot rated the game a 7/10 saying, "Stacked up like the rickety tiers of a Gothic building, Layers of Fear proves aptly named." Leon Hurley praised the game in a GamesRadar review, stating "it's one of the best horror games I've ever played and literally creates a new tool set for interactive scares." He complimented the game's art and the "unease from a horror experience" it provides, giving it a maximum score.
Choi Rad of IGN found the subject of the game interesting but declared the game not scary lacking tension and having telegraphed scares and that "every time I started to enjoy the flow, it was broken by small puzzle challenges that just aren’t fun to solve." Joe Juba of Game Informer echoed Rad's statements of critiquing the games telegraphed scares, noting that it felt like a haunted house at a carnival rather than P.T., declaring that " After a scary moment, it doesn’t allow players enough breathing room, because the next one is always immediately around the corner. Every time you enter a room or a hallway, something happens."
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