Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / Layers of Fear

Go To
Layers of Fear is a horror Environmental Narrative Game created by the Bloober Team. The player takes on the role of an insane painter slowly making his way through an ever-shifting house. A DLC, Inheritance, was released on August 2, 2016, starring his daughter.

A sequel called Layers of Fear 2 was released May 28, 2019. You play an actor filming a movie aboard a ship, instructed by a mysterious director. Along the way you explore the story of a girl named Lily and her little brother James.

    open/close all folders 

These games provides examples of:

    Layers of Fear 
  • Alien Geometries: The house appears to be this. In the prologue and one of the epilogues, it appears to be a normal house if poorly maintained. However, once the game proper begins, if you walk through one door and then attempt to leave through it, you may find yourself in a completely different room than where you had started - assuming, of course, that it didn't lock behind you. Sometimes the mere act of turning around changes details of the room, including making doorways vanish or appear elsewhere.
  • All the Worlds are a Stage: After collecting the last... "item", the artist needs to complete his painting, you are suddenly warped into a room with a checkerboard. You then have to search through the now wrecked and warped versions of the six rooms in the house where the artist found each of the six MacGuffins (kitchen, master bedroom, basement, baby's room, study, and bathroom) to collect the checker board's missing pieces and finish the game.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: The Artist is implied to have PTSD induced schizophrenia, hallucinations and psychosis. You can find several medals tucked away in drawers early on as well a drawer full of them in the office with the phone puzzle and "Babyface."
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • By the end of the game, it's heavily implied that the true cause of the wife's death was suicide, as one of the final scenes strongly plays like she killed herself in the bathtub. But you can't entirely rule out the possibility that the Artist actually murdered her for destroying his masterpiece, which was hinted at more lightly earlier on, though this might have been a Red Herring.
    • Until the Inheritance DLC, it was unclear whether the daughter had also died at some point before the game began. Eventually Averted, however, since she returns in the DLC as the playable character, very much alive some thirty years after the events of the main game.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: Seems to be set somewhere in the early-to-mid 20th century, but the language used in the notes and letters scattered throughout the house seems much more modern. (Complicating matters is that Mr. Scooter, a toy that features heavily in Inheritance, is a real and very modern toy, being released in 1999)
  • And I Must Scream:
    • The fate of the three kids in the bonus level; see Be Careful What You Wish For.
    • Also, the fate of the Artist in one ending. Unable to finish the magnum opus to his satisfaction, he is trapped in a cycle of obsessive mental degradation alone in his ruined house, unable to come to terms with his own mistakes or move on from his failings.
  • The Atoner: Implied that this is what the Artist is trying to do, hoping that painting one more beautiful picture of his wife will somehow fix everything. Then subverted in that the only ending that turns out well is the one where he paints a picture of himself instead, moving on through sheer selfishness rather than atonement (or, more generously, through focusing on his painting rather than on a past he cannot change).
  • Bathos: In Inheritance, watching Mr. Scooter (the toy cat) go off with its... children? It's a weird moment, but a very different sort of "weird" than the rest of the game.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The Halloween level has scattered pages about three kids using a Ouija Board. The first one, a girl, wishes to be beautiful and is turned into a porcelain doll. The second wishes to escape after not being able to fit out a window, and rats gnaw off his limbs. The final one wishes that none of this is real and is trapped in a painting.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • In one ending, the artist decides not to paint yet another portrait of his wife and child, successfully completing a self-portrait instead; the artist seems satisfied with it, enough to move on from the tragedy, and the portrait ends up framed and displayed in a gallery, indicating that it was received well enough to revive the artist's career. However, the artist is still no closer to being reunited with his daughter, nor does he appear to have any desire to do so - a possible indication that his recovery was only achieved by embracing his selfishness. A more optimistic approach to this ending is that he realizes that he will never get his family back no matter how much he repents and struggles. By focusing on the present and what he can do now, he moves on and returns to his career, the only part of his past that he can possibly return to.
    • In Inheritance, one ending features his the now-grown daughter coming to terms with her father's obsession and finally forgiving him for everything he did, then burning the house down... then apparently experiencing the beginnings of the same instability and obsession over perfection that her father showed, now directed at her own daughter's art.
  • Bonus Stage: A limited level was released for Halloween that was only available for a month.
  • Bookcase Passage: You unlock one in the study room.
  • Camera Screw: Limited and actually relevant. When the Artist walks, the camera moves like he is limping and on several occasions, the camera starts rotating like if he is having vertigo.
  • Child Prodigy: If you follow the directions of her parents in Inheritance, the daughter could be considered this, of both music and art.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: The game is full of them.
  • Creepy Doll: Features prominently throughout the game. At one point the screen is filled with them. Sometimes they seem to move on their own...
  • Destroy the Abusive Home: In one ending of Inheritance, the daughter burns her childhood home to the ground to put an end to the madness that took place there.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Letters between the Artist and his lawyer suggest that they tried to argue this in court following an incident in which the Artist is heavily implied to have assaulted a social worker who tried to take his daughter away. It doesn't work.
  • Disneyland Dad: A few notes and flashbacks hinted that the Artist bought his daughter toy after toy instead of genuinely caring for her. Some of the daughter's locations are filled to the brim with toys.
  • Distant Epilogue: The Inheritance DLC brings the daughter back to the house for her own, shorter story. Since she's now an adult woman with a child of her own, it's clearly been several decades since the events of the main game.
  • Downer Ending:
    • In the most common ending, the Artist completes the painting of his wife's pre-accident face, only to watch her beauty deform and burn up into a skeletal horror. Enraged, he picks up the painting and tosses it into a room filled with identical paintings, revealing that the game was but one of his many attempts. Worse still, if you return to the room, you can see he's actually succeeded every time, but his own madness will only let him see the skeletal failure. After this, he walks through his house, finding it the trashed wreck that it really is, locks himself up in his studio again, and pulls the tarp off a new blank canvas.
    • In another ending, the Artist completes a portrait of his wife and child, only to realize that his artistic efforts can't bring back either of them and instead he burns himself alive along with his many failures rather than go on living a lie.
    • In the 'Too Little, Too Late' ending of Inheritance, his daughter ends up most-likely dying as she accidentally sets the house ablaze in her anger at her father, and is trapped inside under some rubble.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Distantly throughout much of the game, but it also is used to punctuate some of the set pieces, particularly ones taking place in hallways with windows.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Flashbacks in the final section indicate that the artist's wife slit her wrists in the bathtub. If he didn't end up killing her in self-defense, that is.
    • In the "Wife and Daughter" ending, the artist realizes that his attempts at capturing the past through art are pointless; so, he sets both his finished masterpiece (which is, of course, of his wife and daughter) and his many rejects on fire, pausing just long enough to embrace the portrait before he burns alive.
  • Epigraph: The game starts with an excerpt from The Picture of Dorian Gray,
    Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a painting of the artist, not of the sitter.
  • Evil Laugh: In the Wife ending. The picture of the artist's wife emerges from the canvas and does this while turning into a charred figure. The artist hears several discarded portraits laughing as well.
  • Expy: The twitching phantom that stalks the artist in later levels is a clear send-up of Lisa from Silent Hills. Both are the spirits of the protagonists' deceased wives, both move in a surreal manner, and both kill you with protracted and disturbing jump scares while holding you close to their faces. The only difference is that the artist's wife is possibly a hallucination, while Lisa was almost certainly real given the setting.
  • Fictional Painting: The plot is driven by the increasingly unstable painter protagonist's attempt to finish his last portrait which he believes will bring back his wife, who he Drove to Suicide with neglect. A few other paintings by him also make appearances, including Baby Face, a portrait of a child with hypertrichosis.
  • The Grotesque: The Wife might be.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The unsettling cries of a desperate child can be heard throughout.
  • Humanoid Abomination: A rippling, twitching figure starts stalking you around the game's midpoint and is the only proper enemy in the proceedings. It's all but outright stated to be what remains of the protagonist's deceased wife, but whether it's truly her vengeful spirit or the artist's hallucination is up for debate.
  • It Runs in the Family: The daughter seems to carry the same possibility for insanity and rage that her father had, shown in both the Inheritance's good and bad endings. She does say that insanity runs in her family.
  • Jump Scare: The game is full of them. Some are caused by the enemy detailed above and lead to a Non Standard Game Over, but most of them are used to cap off long scenes of tension building.
  • Kick the Dog: Or rather burn the poor thing alive.
    • Inheritance seems to imply that the Artist chopped the dog up. In any event, the DLC makes it even more evident that the Artist hated the dog, and the daughter didn't seem to care for it much, either.
  • Left Hanging: Some plot points remain ambiguous:
    • The fate of the Artist's Wife. A bloody knife is found next to a full bathtub, with the Artist's memory of the event featuring the Author exclaiming loudly in horror and grief, so it could be a sign that she committed suicide. However, notes indicate that she'd wanted to kill him, so it's also possible that she lured him into the bathroom and attacked him, and he ended up killing her in self-defense.
    • The... ingredients used for the paintings. Are they actually human organs, or is the Artist just hallucinating everything? If the former, is the artist murdering people, is he mutilating himself in pursuit of artistic perfection, or has he dug up his wife's body and started cannibalizing her?
    • The Inheritance DLC follows up on some of the unresolved plot points, great and small. It is revealed that his daughter survived and was taken by social services. And the apples turn up in a setpiece. Yes, there are way too many of them.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The game gives plenty of evidence to suggest three things. One, the Artist is hallucinating everything, and that the twisted mansion is brought on by a combination of guilt, stress, alcohol, and mental illness. Two, he's genuinely being tormented by the spirit of his dead wife, and forced to endure a repeating cycle of horror. Or three, it's a mixture of both. His mind is playing tricks, but supernatural forces as represented by his wife's ghost are clearly at work.
  • Mind Screw: The whole game is full of it.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: The extent of the wife's scarring may have been this, with the Artist being the one doing the overreacting. In the endings, when you're back in the real version of the house, you can see what all the demonic paintings from the Wife ending really looked like. Some of them are his wife from before the accident, while some of them show her with only a little scarring on the side of her face. It's implied that in his madness, the Artist instead could only see his wife as if she'd had all her skin burnt off, even in his own paintings of her.
  • Marionette Motion: The Lisa expy you encounter undergoes seizure-style motions. Lampshaded in one of the letters, explaining that this could be the result of nerve damage from the fire.
  • Moving Beyond Bereavement: The bulk of the concerns the Artist's efforts to overcome his grief over a multitude of tragedies concluding with the suicide of his wife. Consumed by depression, alcoholism and terrifying hallucinations, the Artist is now trying to move on by creating a portrait of his wife as she was before her disfigurement, confronting all the troubling memories and nightmares he's acquired along the way. The composition may or may not involve the use of human remains. There are three possible endings to this quest:
    • 1: The Artist abandons his efforts to paint his wife and instead completes a beautiful self-portrait, allowing him to move on, reinvigorate his career, and make his name in history... but at the cost of no longer thinking of his wife and child.
    • 2: The Artist succeeds in his original goal, only for the painting to mutate into a hideous recreation of his hideously-disfigured wife, forcing the Artist to dump it in a room full of similarly-ruined portraits (all of which appear flawless at second glance). He then begins work on yet another attempt at the magnum opus...
    • 3: The Artist creates a portrait of his wife and daughter, but finally realizes that his artistic efforts can't bring back either of them, ultimately setting the painting, the rejects and himself on fire.
  • Multiple Endings: Three of them, though none of them are good per se. Inheritance also has three endings.
  • Nightmare Sequence: The entire game is one continuous nightmare sequence for the protagonist.
  • Nightmarish Nursery: The third level concerns the Artist's daughter. As such, the distorted corridors quickly become decorated with crayon scrawls as you progress deeper into the house, until an entire section of rooms is devoted to the many dolls that have been bought for the child - all of which come to life and menace the player. At the end of this maze is the Daughter's bedroom/nursery, which at first appears perfectly normal... right up until you activate the little carousel toy, plunging the room into another nightmarish showcase.
  • Non Sequitur Environment: A regular occurrence. Beginning in a relatively ordinary mansion, it soon becomes clear that all is not well after you open the door to leave the studio and find that the layout of the house has been warped beyond all recognition. After that, it's quite common for the environment to change behind closed doors or new rooms to materialize while your back's turned, or even for different interiors to "glitch" into existence around you.
  • No Name Given:
    • The artist's name is never revealed, nor is that of his wife. Newspaper clippings that presumably reveal them are scratched out.
    • In the ending of Inheritance, some blocks in the father's shrine to his daughter spell 'REGINA', hinting that it might be her name.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The game keeps the creepy pressure on even when nothing is happening by keeping you unsure whether something is going to happen. Frequently, nothing continues to happen.
  • Off with His Head!: As a sign of just how far the Artist has fallen in terms of sanity, he's reduced to illustrating this happening to Little Red Riding Hood, of all people.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: Can be heard in settings related to your daughters' bedroom.
  • Ouija Board: The game features this as a small puzzle in one area to unlock a secret item, and the Halloween DLC revolves around three children who used it to summon a demon that could grant their deepest desires.
  • Psychological Horror: The game does not use much of standard scares of other horror games, such as scarce supply, strong enemies, and hiding tactics. The jumpscares through the game are ultimately harmless and 'embracing death' does not set back the game and in fact is a part of gameplay. However, the atmosphere and Mind Screw make the gameplay genuinely creepy, and the story revealed through the game clearly shows a man slowly descending into madness and a woman driven to suicide.
  • Psychological Torment Zone: The Artist's daughter describes the house as "a nightmarish echo chamber of past mistakes and tragedies," and given the Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane angle throughout both games, it may very well be a literal case of this trope.
  • Public Domain Paintings: All of the paintings seen throughout the house are implied to have been painted by the Artist, but many of them are actually famous paintings in the real world (though some are distorted in some way, most notably "Lady with an Ermine", which is twisted into "Rat-Lady With a Snarling Rat").
  • Real Fake Door: Some doors will lead to nothing more than a brick wall.
  • Rule of Three: The third time you have to use the elevator, the power goes out and it plummets to the bottom of the elevator shaft.
  • Sanity Slippage: The Artist has been slowly going downhill for a long time. Already a little bit on the obsessive side, his wife's disfigurement drove him to begin drinking heavily, imagining rats everywhere, obsessively critiquing his daughter's artistic efforts, and painting progressively more grotesque artworks - leading to him assaulting a critic at one point. By all appearances, the suicide and/or Accidental Murder of his wife sent him off the deep end, to the point that he actually tried to kidnap his daughter back from child services. And by the start of the game, he's setting out to make the perfect artwork through stolen organs...
  • Schmuck Bait: "DON'T LOOK BEHIND YOU"
  • Spiritual Successor: Bears many similarities, both in atmosphere and story, to Silent Hills (with some nods to PT in particular), albeit with a visual style more reminiscent of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.
  • Starving Artist: The neutral ending reveals that the Artist has allowed his life and finances to fall to pieces, and is now struggling to complete his masterpiece in the dilapidated ruins of his once-sumptuous house, with final demands for payment piling up at the door and nothing left in the kitchens.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: One of the DLC's endings is the daughter embracing both the talent and the madness she inherited from her father, becoming an artist on her own: "I was once told that insanity runs in my family. Let it run!"
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The game is (presumably) this due to the artist's mental issues.
  • Too Upset to Create: Likely the reason behind the Painter's downfall from glory, implied to have stemmed from his wife's injury, with his only hope left of trying to "bring her back" through painting.
  • Trap Door: You fall through a trap door located in your study room.
  • Villain Protagonist: It's heavily implied that the artist emotionally abused his wife after her disfigurement and did the same to his daughter, and that he might have gone so far as to butcher the wife's corpse after her death - and that's assuming he didn't start killing strangers - though like most of the game, this is up for interpretation.
  • Whispering Ghosts: On the PS4, at least, your controller starts whispering when near a "memory" item, which gives snatches of one-sided dialogue related to the item.

    Layers of Fear 2 
  • Actionized Sequel: Unlike the last game, there are a few sequences where you are chased by monsters and have to hide from and/or outrun them or you'll die. Furthermore, death in the sequel results in a game over that requires you to repeat the chase section until you're successful, instead of simply skipping you to the end of the scene and putting a few points into your hidden "bad ending" metre, which was what happened on the rare occasions that you could "die" in the first game.
  • The All-Concealing "I": Thanks to the first-person perspective, the identity of the Actor is left ambiguous from the beginning; as with the previous game, any articles and letters that refer to you have had your name scribbled out. Your decisions over the course of the game eventually decide your true identity: if you follow the Director's instructions, you're James, the younger and more obedient of the siblings; if you rebel against him, you're Lily, the older and more independent of the two.
  • Ambiguous Situation: At first it appears as though the Burns siblings stowed away on a ship to America after their father died in a fire at the cinema he operated, leaving them orphaned. However, a later scene shows a badly burned mannequin writhing in pain on a bed, and the player character can do nothing but simply leave the room; hinting that perhaps he was severely injured but survived, but that his children took the opportunity to escape him anyway.
  • Arc Words: Build the character
  • Bittersweet Ending: Regardless of whether you choose to obey the Director or rebel against him, your character ends up completing their part in the film to thunderous applause from the crew. You then return to your dressing room, surrounded by posters detailing the successful career you've enjoyed... and then that casket in the corner starts rattling ominously - symbolically suggesting that you're still haunted by the past and you'll never truly be free of it.
  • Collection Sidequest: You can find various film posters, slides, recordings, and notes around the levels that are displayed back in the hub world between chapters.
  • Death by Childbirth: The children's mother died giving birth to James.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Played with. While Lily might seem to be a bit of a dreamer at first, it turns out that she's deliberately putting on a performance in order to keep her little brother from panicking, and generally serves as the nearest equivalent to a responsible adult in his life; meanwhile, though James is a rather meek and unassuming kid, he seems terminally dependent on his sister's support - to the point he appears to descend into Sanity Slippage in her absence and starts talking to rats. The ending plays this dynamic further: if you obeyed the Director's orders and built the character around his instructions, the Actor is revealed to be James; if you resisted Direction and took responsibility for your own performance, the Actor turns out to be Lily.
  • Little Stowaway: Both Lily and James stow away aboard a luxury passenger ship in order to escape their abusive home life, and much of their time aboard is spent scavenging for food and trying to avoid discovery by suspicious crew-members.
  • The Lost Lenore / Missing Mom: The mother is this; her death caused the father and Lily much grief, and the father spends what little money he has on flowers for her grave over getting James a birthday present.
  • Motifs:
    • Filmmaking; there are various lights and props scattered around the ship, and dummies "acting" out scenes.
    • Pirates, because the little boy and his big sister would often play pirates together, and it's indicated that Lily kept it up when they stowed away on the ship to give James courage.
      • Along with this, gold and treasure.
    • Rats.
    • Playing cards, for their father's gambling habit.
    • One-eyed creatures, like a cyclops, for the father because he lost an eye in war.
    • White Lilies, for Lily.
    • Mannequin heads, to represent the ability of actors to become someone else.
  • Murder by Inaction: One of the flashback dioramas indicates that Lily and James' left their abusive father to die even while he was crying out for help, instead fleeing the family home to stow away aboard the Odyssey. It's not known if he really did die, but given that you don't encounter his voice or any recreations of him after this point, it can be presumed that he died without medical attention.
  • Mythology Gag: An early room you can visit has several untouched canvases, scattered art supplies, and a closet filled to the brim with alcohol bottles
  • No Name Given: The notes from the actor's agent are always just signed "Your Friend and Agent".
  • Parental Neglect: Lily and James' mother died in childbirth, and their father never really got over it, neglecting his children and turning to drinking and gambling.
  • Prima Donna Director: The Director has some...very unusual methods for encouraging the Actor to get into character. He also doesn't like it when you disobey him.
  • Rage Against the Author: In-Universe. There are a few points in the narrative where you are given a choice and have to decide whether to obey the Director or defy him; for example shooting a male mannequin or a female mannequin. The Director will instruct you to shoot the female, but you can choose to shoot the male instead.
  • The Runway: Two children run away from their abusive father and sneak aboard a ship where the crew is very aggressive about capturing stowaways, and have to scavenge for food while hiding from the guards.
  • Schrödinger's Player Character: The final reveal of which one of the Burns siblings you've been playing as throughout the game will change depending on your actions: if you mostly obeyed the Director you'll get James; if you mostly disobeyed the Director you'll get Lily. You can also Take a Third Option and balance obedience and disobedience equally... but this nets you the bad ending, with the Rat Queen ordering your (still unidentified) protagonist to go back and try again.
    • Also has shades of Static Role, Exchangeable Character, since the sibling who isn't your character will still be present in the story, albeit not using their adult character model from the other ending; instead having died on the boat when they were still a child.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The father was this. He had severe injuries from war, including a missing eye.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Judging by the posters, the mysterious Actor has starred in several copyright-friendly versions of classic films, including Metropolis and The Wizard of Oz. For good measure, these posters are often found in areas directly based on iconic scenes from the films, including the Moloch machine from the former and the Yellow-Brick Road to the Emerald city from the latter.
    • The imaginary rocket-flight ends in a homage to the iconic landing shot from A Trip to the Moon.
    • One section in "Breathe" has a series of rooms referencing the deaths in Se7en.
    • In another section, you can find a recreation of one the Overlook Hotel's hallways in which Danny Torrance rode his Big Wheel in The Shining, complete with the carpeted floor's iconic hexagonal patterns as well as Danny's tricycle. And, of course, you can also meet mannequin representations of the twins and their death scene.
    • The names of the siblings are Lily and James.
      • The siblings also shared the same name as Lily James. Fittingly, both professions are acting.
  • Swarm of Rats: As in the previous game, rats are a prominent motif. The little boy, James, starts talking to the rats on the ship when he can't find his sister.
  • Take a Third Option: It's entirely possible to walk the line between obeying and ignoring the Director, by following his instructions in two key scenes and going against them in the other two. This results in the Bad Ending, where the Actor is unable to establish their identity as either of the Burns siblings and is chastised by the Rat Queen to go back and try again.
  • The Unfavorite: James. His father ignores or emotionally abuses him, and his internal monologue has Lily call him weak and useless.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: The Actor hates the sea, making the Director's decision to shoot the film on an ocean liner distinctly troubling - though as the Agent makes clear, the gig is "too good to pass up." It's eventually revealed that the Actor is the adult version of either Lily or James, and their aversion to the ocean is due to their traumatic experiences as child stowaways - ending in the sinking of the ship and the death of the other sibling.