[REVIEW] Layers of Fear: Legacy (Switch)

A chilling dish of a painter's insanity served on a silver splatter.

With the Nintendo Switch having now created a cozy home for the haunting of horror titles, fans have a handful of choices that will apply a cure to the wound’s empty void like a med-kit. Layers of Fear: Legacy is one of those games to do that, but also without the need to recover health (physically) because it stands out offering a unique experience delivering a compelling narrative and a truly haunting atmosphere. Based in Poland, developer Bloober Team has produced their own take on the genre where horror is the sidekick of an overall thrilling presentation. The only health recovery is completely psychological.

The paintings, decor and lighting are all exceptional.

Layers of Fear: Legacy doesn’t necessarily paint a pretty picture, despite actually looking good. You take control of an agitated artist whose paintings, career and family take a toll on him smearing his perception of reality like strokes of oil-based paint on freshly placed water color. The entire game takes place in a seemingly large and never-ending mansion which houses a perfect atmosphere showing the startling effects which reveals that a starving artist is never truly fulfilled even if one had previously seen success. His work has suffered for reasons the player finds out as the layers unfold and the result is there is more than a single contributor to one person’s legacy. The finale was done with a nice touch and evokes a feeling that still lingers for a while even when it’s finished.

Neglected Nursery

For the most part, players will go through a huge spooky mansion without ever encountering an enemy. The one exception to that is the enemy is the artist himself. The gameplay in Layers of Fear: Legacy is simple in its mechanics, but the navigational aspect is in the hands of the player. There are certain areas and puzzles which can be completely missed all due to choices made. The mansion, essentially one’s mind with many doors being a metaphor for choice, is the driving force for the narrative. Entering through doors do have their consequences and is the bulk of the mysterious adventure. Wanting to know what’s behind a door is certainly thrilling, even if that’s mostly all there is to the gameplay. It’s not completely incorrect to narrow it down to being a door-opening simulator, but it’s much more than that. The level of detail pertaining to each room adding another layer to the story and moving it forward is fantastic. The sound is good, which is also accompanied by voice acting, too. The visual effects of the insanity are worth experiencing. The mansion itself plays a great deal of tricks on you. Your mind is playing tricks on you.

Not a game changer, but it does enhance.

There’s not much to the controls, either, however, but it gets the job done. In fact, your only action-orientated move is to interact with objects, such as opening cabinets, doors, narrative objects and getting through puzzles. Press ZL will zoom the camera in as long as the button is held. As an artistically-driven experience, this is a nice option to have for moments you want more inspection on. Holding down L will enable a faster walk (the tone of the game will kind of explain the lack of running), if not still slower than one would expect. Pressing ZR will interact with the environment. That’s basically it. A bonus for the Nintendo Switch version comes in both the HD rumble and optional motion controls. When interacting with an object that can be opened, such as a door obviously, players can open & close them by tilting the right Joy-Con either left or right while holding ZR for example. Speed and range of motion are also factored in. If players want to open doors fast without thinking about it then there isn’t anything stopping them. Cracking a door just slightly open to see what’s on the other side and then slamming it shut can also be performed. The right analog stick is otherwise the traditional method of opening.

The kitchen looks normal and still. What could possibly happen?

At times, objects can be examined and rotated. The individual pieces are realistically created and often without an immediate explanation about it nor the ability to hold onto them in an inventory. Brilliantly the game makes sense of them as you keep playing and creates an “ah” moment. Or an “aw”. The mansion itself is an entire complex full of sanity effects. Blood seeping through walls, distant cries, the screams of a child, rooms changing their form all because you looked in specific direction and back again, objects moving on their own, paintings changing in real time, and more. The painting themselves are also one of the stars of this show. Most of them are portraits of human beings in that Victorian style of painting whose eyes pierce into your soul as if they are actually watching you. The deformities and other encounters relating to painting have context in relation to the plot. It’s like an ongoing nightmare where monsters are ones of your own projected into the environment itself. How you also choose to play actually determines particular parts of the game.

Lightning. Classic.

Layers of Fear: Legacy runs in 1080p resolution with a stable 30 fps. At times it may dip only slightly with what’s happening in the scene, but it’s smooth overall. My recommendation is to disable the look acceleration in the options as it’s a slow experience by default. Doing so and increasing my look sensitivity just slightly provided more natural experience for me. Head bobble is enabled by default and field of view can also be altered for players wanting to see more of the environment at once or a more zoomed in look providing a more personal approach when interacting with objects and viewing paintings. Completion time is about 5-7 hours. Playing with a nice pair of headphones is definitely recommended, although not necessary. The sound is integral to everything. The soundtrack is also nice involving dramatic piano keys, unsettling vocals, strings and the overall vibe of a sad music box. The game also deserves praise for some of its texture work. Not only do objects look great when examining them, but the textures of fabric in general throughout the game, such as drapes and tablecloth, are lifelike. Making use of great lighting also makes the atmosphere feel eerily natural. What’s more is the addition of extra content known as Inheritance, which takes places after the events of the main game. It’s much of the same style of game, but also giving another point of view and more context to what’s already been experienced while adding new environment pieces. An additional 2 hours of gameplay can be had with this content which is worth playing through.

You can feel a presence.

Summary
Layers of Fear: Legacy isn't your typical horror game with weaponry or with the means of survival from enemies. Instead, it takes a more artistic direction, technically, and manages to feel compelling from start to finish. The gameplay itself isn't too deep, but the narrative and atmosphere are top notch. Simply put, this is a great experience for anyone looking for eerie undertones without the baggage of item management and the stress of time.
The Stellar
  • Believable environment.
  • Traumatic story.
  • Good sound.
  • Artistic visual approach with fantastic effects.
The Lesser
  • Needed more clever puzzles.
8.4
Pretty Good
Gameplay - 7.5
Visual - 8.5
Audio - 8.5
Value - 9

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