There’s a concept, or trope, in horror films called “the Spring-loaded Cat”. Picture a film where a character is searching a dark and scary building, they hear a noise, they walk up to a door, trembling as they reach for the handle, the soundtrack is building, they finally open the door and….oh, it’s just a tossing cat knocking around because it’s a nob. The Spring-loaded Cat comes from those scenes in films where the tension, the fear, and the souring string music builds to an absolute peak, before being explained away by a moggy on a mission. This cheap ploy is often predictable in its nature, so often have we seen it we know what to expect, you then get the evolution where it was a double bluff and the cat relieves tension of the audience before a psychopathic killer is behind the protagonist of the scene. Fear, relief and then shock repeat, the way to any good manipulation of an audience in horror, something Bloober Team have put to use in their first person horror masterpiece Layers of Fear.

Layers of Fear Inheritance Review 2

For the past five years I’ve avoided most first person horror games, not because I jump easily or have a slightly paranoid over active imagination, but instead I don’t want to accidentally become a Youtuber and film myself playing that stuff in the dark.

Layers of Fear at first glance seemed like any other horror game of the past few years, here’s a creepy location that is decrepit and in need of a permanently stationed cleaner, now run. But instead this isn’t a traditional game, I’m not one of those douches that says Gone Home isn’t a game, but instead it just doesn’t follow traditional gameplay mechanics, it almost feels like more of an experience. In Layers of Fear you must wander around a house and discover the story of a father who paints, suffers from alcoholism and to be blunt is as mad  as a hatter. His wife is disfigured in a fire and her face is scared as if she has a permanent grimace and his daughter is caught in the middle of this chaotic relationship and household.

Through the course of the game you wander from room to room and things just get weird. At first it’s just doors closing suddenly but then progresses into screams, upside down rooms, melting furniture and possessed dolls. At no point can you truly die, instead at certain points if you don’t run or avoid a situation you end up somewhere house. The game advertises itself as changing based on your choices, but realistically those choices are “left or right door” on the most part. Due to the nature of how the game is it seems like in each chapter you will see the same rooms as another player, but maybe in a different order. The game does feature puzzles but they’re few and far between and more often than not are just a case of finding a specific item in a room or find the number for this combination lock. The original game mostly disseminated its story through notes and letters that you would find in the thousands of cupboards and draws, this was completely optional, but if you’re yet to play it I must encourage you to find these items, they flesh the story out to an amazing degree and explain some wonderful little touches to gameplay. Early on you really are not sure who you are. As a player in a first person game you are obviously ‘someone’, you’re talking, you’re interacting with the world. It’s only through the notes and letters and a receipt for a prosthetic leg did it truly become clear what was going on with the players avatar in the game.

Layers of Fear Inheritance Review 3

Inheritance is the first piece of DLC for Layers of Fear, it picks up the story of the bastard Rubik’s Cube house owned by the mad painter. This time it’s over a decade after the events of the main game and you’re playing as the daughter of the abusive father and crazy disfigured mother. She has memories of the events but is looking for more.

Layers of Fear had a lot of handholding, at times it felt like an on rails game as you were being clearly led from one room to the next, objects in the way, doors being locked or disappearing, all coming together to giving the illusion of a big world but in reality there was a prime path. Inheritance suffers from the same issue but turns it to its benefit, rather than giving the illusion of choice it uses it to give more focus on story that isn’t found on scraps of paper like adult magazines discarded next to railway lines. Inheritance is a cleaner more honed in experience where there is a clear thread and tale to experience. It doesn’t have the meat of the main game but the alternative perspective to the main game’s characters really does add to the world.

Graphically both Layers of Fear and Inheritance have a strong aesthetic that doesn’t over rely on a room being dark as the way to make something. You can see what’s going on and interact with a lot of it to really feel like you’re exploring the world and minds of these various sociopaths.

Layers of Fear Inheritance Review 4

Both games use shock as a ploy to create horror, but the master stroke is to make the player on edge not through the jumping, or the fear of jumping, but the elements around that. The scariest thing I’ve seen a horror film was the original Japanese release of The Ring, there’s an image on the actual video of a man stood in a stream with a bag on his head, there’s nothing shocking or offensive about the image, but there was something about it that just cut me deep. The jumps didn’t bother me, Sadako didn’t bother me, just that bastard with the sheet on his head. Something doesn’t have to be loud or sudden to be scary of Inheritance knows that, it plays with perspective and normality to an extent where just some crayon on a wall can make you feel uneasy. It’s worth noting I played through the main game and the DLC with my horror obsessed girlfriend, she was sucked into the world and the game, scared for long periods and one occasion was caused to cry in fear because of a chest in an attic filled with screaming vibrating baby dolls.

Inheritance is short, you can get through it in a couple of hours at a leisurely pace, but for story it is a must for anyone who played through Layers of Fear, the horror and gameplay takes a back seat in my mind but an expansion on that messed up house is fascinating. I’ve avoided going into detail about elements of the DLC as with it being so story focussed anything I say would be spoiler territory. As with the main game there are a number of endings based on your play style but the first ending I got was the perfect conclusion to the story, the perspective of a girl with an alcoholic father and the realisation of what drove him to that is something that may not be real but it was a satisfying conclusion to a tremendous story driven experience.

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Ruaidhri

Big-Boss of PixelBedlam.co.uk
Ruaidhri has been writing for a number of sites over the past few years, spewing his vitriol and love in equal measures on all topics from Video Games to Film and Board Games to Geek Culture. He started PixelBedlam in September of 2012. Follow him on Twitter!

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