Layers of Fear: Legacy (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Having originally released early 2016, Layers of Fear: Legacy puts a fresh coat of paint on the psychological horror, combining the base game and Inheritance DLC for a definitive Switch release. Incorporating many of the hardware’s new features, is the mad painter’s vision any clearer?

The First Coat

Starting the game for the first time, you are greeted with a message. Proclaiming each of your decisions will affect the narrative and comparing the gameplay experience to life itself, it sets an odd tone from the beginning. This message, though something insignificantly skipped for some, had made its presence clear. It puts forward the notion of the game as something to be experienced, not simply observed or played. This message would serve to put weight on my actions, and add responsibility to the consequences.

After such a stark notice of your involvement in the story to come, the title screen feels oddly serene. A well-lit room containing art supplies, accompanied by a quaint and soothing piano melody. It isn’t scary, nor ominous. It’s calming, almost beautifully so.

Switching it Up

Before starting the game itself, I took a moment as I always do to try the touch screen. Despite the menu being by no means optimised for such input, my frantic taps actually did something on-screen. I am the kind of person to appreciate touch controls when I see them, especially for such minor things as menus. It feels intuitive and generally quite pleasant, going a long way in streamlining non-gameplay elements. This appreciation can only take me so far; when the developers were so bold to proclaim the game had been “redesigned to make the best out of Nintendo Switch’s unique features”, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. This isn’t what a redesign looks like; this is an afterthought. An instance the studio sought to release something they could call more than a port without the willingness to make the necessary stylistic compromises. This theme of poorly conceived afterthoughts echoes into almost every one of the Switch’s unique offerings.

Moving past the menus, touch inputs are also supported as you explore the bulk of the game. There are a variety of successful touch implementations in a game such as this; swiping to pan the screen, or simply being able to tap things you can see. Layers of Fear: Legacy went for a different approach entirely. Here, the touch screen ultimately controls your character’s neck. Tapping an area of the screen snaps to a position, the far left of the screen moving the camera angle to as far as your neck will turn to the left. To give due credit, it’s an interesting idea in isolation, but in the larger context of the game, it falls flat. On top of this strange neck movement, the touch screen is also used to interact with on-screen elements. This is where it all really comes apart.

Assume you’re looking directly at an interactable object; the logical assumption is that pressing on it would cause an interaction. This would be the case were it not for the aforementioned camera movement. Pressing on the screen will snap the camera to a different location. From here, you slide your finger across the screen until the object is central again. You then tap the unrelated area of the screen for your interaction. The object has more complex interactions? Want to open a chest, or a door? Give up.

The saving grace for this Switch redesign comes from the motion controls. The ability to open a door by flicking your wrist feels good. Though it can be a little jarring to keep jumping between motion controlled interactions, and analogue stick-controlled camera movement, I believe the inclusion of motion controls does improve the overall experience in a meaningful way. You can also use these motion controls to examine objects, rotating the Joy Con as if you were holding the object. It’s nice as an idea, but the reality of it sees the object erratically rotating with little real player control. Stick to the analogue stick here.

As traditional controls go, Layers of Fear: Legacy is neither revolutionary nor lacking. The movement may seem slow for some, but as I played I came to realise there was no necessity for running. Each footstep feels powerful, rhythmical, as if your heart is beating through the floorboards beneath you. This slowed pace reinforces a feeling of dread as you explore the unknown, reaffirming the knowledge you can’t run away, that you must face your demons.

Finish It

Creeping into the house for the first time, you are presented with an interesting atmosphere. One that whispers of another’s presence just out of sight. A soft piano melody and a woman’s song can be heard on top of the ambient storm outside. The imagery put forward is something that stood out to me, and is worked well into every part of the environment. The painter’s desperate struggle to complete his masterpiece, the voice echoing through the halls soon becoming alien and haunting. The broken promises, the sorrow and isolation, they all shine through so early on in the game; all this amplified as you enter the room with the canvas for the first time. Silence—love and warmth daring not haunt this twisted space.

From this solitary chamber, space begins to distort; the world bending to the painter’s troubled mind. This is where your adventure really begins, the doors you go through and the choices you make ultimately deciding the final form of his magnum opus. As you walk through the corridors of this malformed mansion, familiarity becomes a common thought. While the prologue chapter, the time spent before entering the painter’s room, was short and uneventful, it goes far in setting the scene. It allows you to recognise areas, and feel as though you are walking through you own memories of the mansion. You find yourself delving into your own mind as much as the painter himself.

Progression presents itself as a constant struggle. Do you follow the layout of the house? Do you listen to the writing on the walls? Do you follow a distant sound? These choices feel like the mansion itself is fighting both the mind of the painter, and your own free will. It creates an experience unique to the player, and one they will be able to feel a degree of empathy for, despite the abnormal setting. You feel a strange sense of accomplishment to see your actions lead to a payoff in witnessing the consequences.

Defying Gravity

Where I feel the game truly shines is in its puzzles, and the mind games played for the entirety of the experience. From the puzzle design, to the tricks of the ever-changing hallways, I felt a strong presence of Antichamber. Each corner turned, each message read, I had the chambers of the 2013 hit ever-present in my mind. It’s as though they took the style of Antichamber, slowed it down, threw in some darker themes, and added explorative point and click elements. It’s a strange mix in my mind but when it comes together so well, I have to commend it. Though it does rely on a good number of horror tropes, I couldn’t help but enjoy them as they revealed themselves.

The puzzle design isn’t without fault; two sections completely halting my progress as I played. One such area involved me spending 15 minutes tracking down a ringing phone. In this section, the game presented no clever hint to be noticed, ultimately coming down to examining each part of the room until the solution was brute forced. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but these experiences were few and far between. Calling a friend in to help, the game transformed into something new.

Not So Alone in the Dark

By myself in a dark room, light coming only from the television in front of me. That was how I started playing Layers of Fear: Legacy. It is a fine way to experience any horror title new or old, and is the way many people will. This isolation allowed for the atmosphere to build nicely, and for the tension to really hit me. The jump scares scattered throughout the game never felt unfair, the atmosphere and build up justifying their inclusion. Playing with a friend broke all of this, and I enjoyed it far more than I could have anticipated.

My housemate sat comfortably next to me, this psychological horror was seen in a new light. No longer did I find myself entrapped by the atmosphere; instead standing beyond it, given a new power to examine and dissect it. Each room became an alluring point of discussion; the things that would have haunted me alone becoming a subdued laugh and source of newfound stress. The very nature of the game had changed, each of us waiting on baited breath to see just what the game would throw at us next. I found a great experience from this game both as a player and spectator. Layers of Fear: Legacy is a game you control, to be enjoyed alone or with friends, to laugh at or to cower at.

Inherited Trauma

As previously mentioned, the Switch version of this game comes packaged with the Inheritance DLC; this additional story told through the eyes of the painter’s daughter. In this, you’ll find yourself reexploring the mansion from a new perspective, adding further detail to the story of the painter and his family. Given the base game is relatively short, beatable in five or six hours, this additional content is much appreciated. You can expect to get another two or three hours here following the same kind of tropes and themes you’ll already be familiar with.

While ultimately not an incredibly long game, it goes out of its way to sell you on the experience it provides. If you judge a game by how many hours of content it provides, this might not be for you. Though featuring multiple endings to uncover, you’re unlikely to hit more than 15 hours for 100% completion. If you’re looking for a well-designed horror game to play alone or with friends, at a TV or in the middle of nowhere, I urge you to try it. I wasn’t let down, and I don’t think you will be either.

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