Review: Layers of Fear: Legacy (Switch)

Fear-inducing in all the best ways.

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 06/27/2018 12:45 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Creepy visuals; terrific audio; compelling story.
Poison Mushroom for...
Visuals are difficult to see in portable mode; voice acting can be a bit generic; no icon there to tell the player when the game is saving.

When Eternal Darkness released on GameCube back in 2002, it brought something new and different to the survival horror genre in the way that sanity played a pivotal role in the game’s narrative. The highlight of this feature wasn’t the way it impacted the characters in-game, but rather the way it impacted the person playing the game, as a fly would cover the screen or the TV volume would suddenly decrease. In Layers of Fear: Legacy, the sanity of the game’s nameless protagonist also plays a major role, and while the sanity effects are quite different, the way the game portrays the character’s descent into madness is every bit as compelling as it is in that GameCube classic.

Layers of Fear: Legacy puts players in the role of a famous painter that found himself struggling to recapture the acclaim of his earlier works. Once a devoted husband and father, his bout with “artist’s block” only became further compounded following a tragedy, and his state of mind was similarly impacted. Throughout the game, players get glimpses into the character’s past, through notes the painter exchanged with his wife.

The gameplay of Layers of Fear: Legacy centers around exploring the painter’s home in an attempt to finish the painter’s ghoulish new masterpiece. To complete the task, players will have to search the house for six body parts to use in the making of the painting. Like the Overlook Hotel in the film version of The Shining, however, the home defies architectural logic: rooms constantly change locations, floors become ceilings, and a small office stretches several stories into the air. This might sound confusing, but while Layers of Fear is filled with nightmares, navigation isn’t one of them; in truth, the game does a good job of preventing players from getting lost. Most of the time, only a single room or two can be entered, and doors often lock behind the player. The result is a fairly linear path that never feels linear.

Death plays a major role in the game’s narrative, but it never truly comes for the player. The painter’s house is devoid of the types of aggressive enemies so often frequented by titles in the survival horror genre: there are no zombies, aliens or Lovecraftian foes to be found and, thus, none to kill your character and send them back to an earlier save point. Occasionally, an encounter with a ghostly figure will result in the player being knocked unconscious, but these moments are intentional, and never lead to a “Game Over” screen.

Though the player needn’t fear death, there’s plenty enough in the game to fear. The title takes place from a first person perspective, and developer Bloober Team uses it to terrific effect. There are quite a number of “jump scares,” and while they might turn off some players, they’re undeniably effective. A big part of the horror also comes from the game’s terrific audio. Ringing phones, giggling dolls and eerie murmurs (also reminiscent of those heard in Eternal Darkness) add to the game’s atmosphere. Players will definitely want to plug in a pair of headphones for this one to get the best aural experience. The small amount of voice work is a bit on the generic side, but when everything else in the game sounds as good as it does, it’s a minor complaint.

Unfortunately, while headphones add to the experience, the title can be a bit of a hassle to play in handheld mode. Like The Bunker, the setting in Layers of Fear is fairly dark, making it difficult to see things when playing on the go in a brighter area. This can certainly be helped by playing in a sufficiently dark area or by adjusting the game’s brightness, but it does hamper the overall portability of the game. Legacy actually does feature another one of The Bunker’s more irritating issues, and it’s one that has become all too frequent in a number of recent Switch games: it’s impossible to know when the game is saving. This is such an easy problem to fix, and it’s baffling that more and more developers continue to overlook it.

In addition to the main game, Legacy also features the DLC expansion, Inheritance. Inheritance actually serves as a sequel to Layers of Fear, this time focusing on the main character’s daughter. In this sequel, the painter’s daughter finds herself exploring her former home and reliving the tragedies of her childhood. While Inheritance retains the same basics of the main game, it’s notable in that, tonally, it’s quite a bit different. Much of Inheritance takes place from a child’s perspective, and thus the visual scares seem more based on the things that would scare a child. Narrative also plays a bigger role, and the impact of the painter and his wife’s emotional abuse towards their daughter makes for a compelling story. It’s not quite as scary as the main game, but its presence is quite welcome, and it helps to make Legacy a longer, deeper experience.

The concept of losing one’s sanity is perhaps one of the most relatable fears of all. Layers of Fear: Legacy captures that idea in a way not seen in gaming since the days of Eternal Darkness. While the two titles share that theme, Legacy is strong enough to stand on its own. The scares are plentiful and well thought out, the visuals are jarring and the game’s audio is downright haunting. It just might be the scariest title currently available on Switch. Fans of the genre would do well to check this out now on eShop or the physical release from Limited Run Games coming this fall.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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