(Layers of Fear spoilers ahead! be warned!)
Proudly wearing its influences on its paint-splattered smock, Blooper Teams Layers of Fear was a delightful Gothic horror romp that channelled Poe and Lovecraft to great effect as it explored the darker side of the creative process. Lacing players into the apron of a painter obsessed with creating his magnum opus, though it contained a fair amount of jump scares, it was the game’s lingering sense of dread and unhinged protagonist that really made it hit home. You didn’t play as an average guy. You didn’t even play as a nice guy, and the further you progressed, the more you realised that you may not even be playing as a set-upon hero, but a monster that tore his own family (figuratively and possibly literally) apart in pursuit of his art.
Layers of Fear: Inheritance is an epilogue to the main campaign. It acts much like the main story, which was peppered with jump scares from slamming doors to falling bookcases and having you chased by the ghoulish visage of the protagonist’s dead wife. Inheritance pulls similar tricks, this time with barking dogs running in front of you and more slammed windows and doors than a hurricane in home depot.
While the painter’s story was one of self-absorbed, guilt-ridden delirium, the daughter’s tale (which Inheritance tells) is one of a woman looking for answers, and with it closure. Returning to the ruins of her childhood home to face the (often literal) ghosts of her past, we’re treated to crumbling walls, and floors splattered with paint. It takes a more sombre pace than the main campaign, with the narrative told mainly via flashbacks as she stumbles across artefacts that take her mind racing back to her childhood.
For instance, you find yourself posing for a portrait while your father tells you a creepy fairy tale about a witch trying to eat a princess if she doesn’t stay still. All the while, you’re assailed by an invisible force dragging your head left and right as the story he tells gets progressively darker in tone. In another scene, you’re being instructed to paint a landscape, and have the choice to use the oil paints scattered around the slowly decaying room, or work in another, more basic medium, like crayon. How you react to your father in these instances effects the way the girl remembers him, as well as the game’s ultimate conclusion. Unlocking each is less of an esoteric affair than it was to reveal the ‘true ending’ in the main campaign. Simply looking at a photograph for too long or failing to run away from an angry poltergeist won’t change the eventual outcome.
The only real problem I had with developing the narrative this way is that I felt like I had missed out on some part of the plot. You don’t need to see all of the flashbacks to finish the game, and though they’re not exactly hidden, there is the possibility of missing them. In fact, on my first playthrough simply wandering into a room triggered the end game, and I knew full well that there were parts of the house that I had yet to explore. There were childlike drawings I collected after each flashback that described the scene, and could stick on the wall of the workshop, but I’m still not entirely sure of their meaning or how they may effect things. If at all.
That being said, Inheritance is not so much about telling a straight story but how the new protagonist interprets events that were hinted at during the original campaign. And, by extension, how the player does. Was the painter well meaning, but short-tempered and troubled? Was he a man who loved his child but ultimately didn’t know how to show his affections? Or was he someone who didn’t care for your feelings at all, and was only interested in creating someone to continue his artistic legacy, and since you couldn’t live up to his high standards, were of no use to him?
As a result each interpretation, the eventual ending feels slightly more poignant as a result. In the main campaign, the painter, was ultimately always a tragic figure. The only real question to be answered was whether it was of his own making in some way or not. As such, I never felt compelled to replay the original campaign. While Inheritance, with a more decisive structure, makes me want to know what would happen if I had picked crayons over the oil paints. If I refused to hold still while being painted.
Inheritance is a very different monster from the original Layers of Fear. it doesn’t bank on grotesque imagery, at all. The world from the perspective of a toddler can be terrifying enough: a scary story, the walls rattling as your parents fight, the family dog. They’re all just as intimidating to a child as an angry spectre when they’re twice your size and barking in your face.
Layers of Fear: Inheritance may not be a horror story in the same way that the main campaign was, but it’s nevertheless a brilliant addition to the lore of the original game. It presents the events that lead to the original protagonist’s descent into madness from a different perspective, while examining paternal relationships in a way that few games even attempt. It presents these people not as heroes, or villains, but as people, bumbling their way through as best they can.