This is an unusual first look, given that I have played pieces of this game before, and that on this occasion I have played for about 8 hours so far. That I suspect I have a while to go, and have paused to decompress from a particular sequence, has led to this.
In case you might be confused about exactly what this new Layers of Fear is all about, it consists of remakes of the three previous 'episodes' - Layers of Fear 1 (the painter), Layers of Fear 2 (the actor) and Inheritance (the daughter) which was a piece of downloadable content (DLC) - as well as two new tales, The Writers Story and The Final Note (the musician). The first of these is a wraparound narrative that helps tie the whole thing together (I say that without yet being at the end), while the musician's story is more like another piece of DLC. That you don't have to play The Final Note to get to the 'end' is consistent with that description.
In short, you start with the writer, who establishes a reason for being where she is and what she is doing, and you then play though the painter's story, the writer occasionally punctuating the events. Having finished the painter, the writer will find two books, one for the musician and one for the daughter. Chose to play them or not - having being warned that you will have to complete the one you start to get back to where you are - or ignore them and continue as the writer, which will (I understand) take you to the actor's story.
Having played the three earlier releases (you can read reviews for each of them here), and given the musician is new I chose to play that. Plus, she is pivotal to the broader story, and I was keen to know more. Which is where I currently am.
The writer is an excellent addition, and the objective of pulling the threads together a good one. So far, at least in terms of the main story line, it is working.
The extent to which the musician is working remains a live question.
I am enjoying her story a lot. I am less enamoured of the wandering in the dark with not a lot to do whilst sporadically avoiding a malevolent apparition that will end me.
There was some of that throughout, but it seems to stand out more here. Playing as the painter, there seemed to be much more to open and look in, things to find and keep, and more environmental puzzles to deal with, compared to where I am at. Using the torch to find your way through the dark environment is my dominant impression, and despite the discovered insights into her life it is a tad tedious.
The apparition that can appear doesn't help. You can vanquish it with your torch (it will reappear elsewhere until you get through the particular sequence), but you need a certain amount of illumination to be successful. Using your torch depletes its charge, and while it recharges quite quickly, needing it for seeing and fighting at the same time can be tricky. Right now I am using the torch to find my way through a dilapidated maze-like attic to get to the exit door while trying to keep the apparition at bay with a less than fully charged torch. I have failed many times, hence my decompression.
To be fair, I think that my relentless effort to push through to the end does the game a disservice. I played each of the earlier parts as they were released, as stand alone outings, and so these types of feelings would have been less accentuated. If I hadn't already spent six or so hours making my way as the painter through the mansion, including dealing with the same apparition, I suspect I wouldn't have been as frustrated with having to work though this particular sequence. I think given the scale of what is included here, and the relative sameness of the telling, that pausing at the end of a story and coming back would help.
Regardless, it is fabulous. If there is a more sumptuous game graphically I don't know what it is. The sheer amount of detail in the environments is extraordinary, and the art in the painter's tale is both exquisite and frightful. The folding corridors, the Escher-like environments and conundrums, the soundscape, the score - they all add to the experience. You can die, but just get resurrected, and things you have found will stay with you. And the stories under the game play are lush and personal and terrible.
It plays with the keyboard and mouse and autosaves. While you keep things when you die, if the game hasn't saved and you exit after a death, you will have to find those things again.
For more detail of the bits I have played read the earlier reviews. And come back here eventually to find out what I ultimately thought of the whole thing.