Bloober Team really did something special with the original Layers of Fear. Whilst horror games are a dime a dozen and full of over-used tropes and clichés, it offered something that felt more unique, more story-driven, and ultimately more creative as you explored the ever-changing rooms of your old family home. They offered more of the same with the DLC that followed it, whilst their next release >observer_ re-defined the genre again but in a cyberpunk setting.
Naturally then, I found myself very excited for the release of Layers of Fear 2. With Bloober Team returning to horror but with a new setting and tale to tell, my expectations were pretty high. Fortunately, for the most part they’ve managed to hit them, though a few stumbling blocks do prevent Layers of Fear 2 from hitting the heights that its predecessor did.
Layers of Fear 2 puts you in the shoes of a famed actor who has had a troubling time as of late, though the details of what exactly has been going on are a little sparse. What you do know though is that you’ve been invited on an ocean liner by a famed yet strange director (who’s voiced by the brilliant Tony Todd of Candyman fame) to take the lead role in a movie that’s being filmed on board.
This director is one that takes a very peculiar approach in preparing his cast though, with the player tasked with understanding the layers of the character they’re going to play by exploring the ship and uncovering its secrets. Of course, this isn’t presented as a typical tour, but rather one full of horrific sights and a sense of fear as you witness everything slowly changing around you.
I liked Layers of Fear 2’s narrative. It has a few little side-stories going on throughout that slowly link up to the main tale, whilst you’re constantly kept guessing at what exactly is going on and what the sights around you are really meant to represent. However, I also found that it could be a little bit too convoluted at times, with a lot of different things going on throughout that aren’t always fully explained. Whilst it’s designed to be open to interpretation and the horrors you uncover act as metaphors, sometimes I wished it would just be a little bit more clear in what it’s trying to say – if only to appreciate it all a little bit more.
Still, it did enough to keep me intrigued up until the end credits, with the way it’s presented through environmental storytelling certainly hooking me in. A lot of this is thanks to Layers of Fear 2’s ever-changing world: a feature that sees the environment around you completely change when you turn around or as you interact with objects. It was one of the things that made the original game so special, so seeing it all over again here and happening seamlessly just ramped up the mysterious and haunting vibe that the game has going on.
Whilst it features an ever-changing world though, Layers of Fear 2 could be guilty of being a little linear in design. Now this isn’t a bad thing, especially in a narrative-driven game like this, but with the sheer amount of locked doors you encounter (that you can still interact with) it started to feel a little bit like Silent Hill at times. It’s a petty complaint, sure, but it’s one that I’m sure a few players might have after they’ve attempted to open every bloody door they come across during their journey.
That’s not to say you won’t have the opportunity to head off the beaten track a bit. Whilst there’s always a clear path to follow in the game, there are also optional rooms to explore that might hold some additional item to examine or even one of the game’s collectibles (more on that later). It’s in these instances that you uncover some of the game’s more grisly sights too, which is something that never failed to impress me during my time playing. I don’t want to give away any spoilers on what you uncover aboard the ocean liner, but let’s just say they’re the sort of things you certainly wouldn’t expect to see out at sea. They all tie in well with the narrative, look fantastic in-game, and feel like they fit in with the harrowing vibe of Layers of Fear 2 perfectly though.
Layers of Fear 2 is a horror game through-and-through, but I wouldn’t say it goes to over the top with it. For the most part it relies more on suspense with the ‘things that go bump in the night’ more likely to catch you off guard than more elaborate jump scares. That’s not to say it doesn’t resort to the occasional jump scare here and there though, and as you reach the game’s latter chapters you’ll notice a shift in the visual stylings of the terrors you face too. I would say it’s not as scary as the first game, but it’s still eerie nonetheless.
Oh, and of course, you’re meant to be there to film a movie and Layers of Fear 2 doesn’t forget this. Besides the usual things like cameras and lighting to be seen throughout, there are also plenty of references to popular movies to be encountered as you play the game. It might be horror classics such as Psycho or The Shining (which was my favourite reference throughout) or even The Wizard of Oz and its yellow brick road. A lot of these references are subtle ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments, but they’re still nice to see if you’re a movie buff.
Whilst most of the game is spent exploring the environment, examining objects to uncover snippets of the story, or solving the occasional (and typically simple) puzzle, Layers of Fear 2 likes to ramp up the dread at times by having a monstrous creature hunt you down. These instances typically boil down to just finding the right path to run away to and then scarpering, all whilst closing the occasional door to slow the creature down. It makes for some pretty intense moments, but not for the right reasons – you’re given very little room for error when running away and each pursuit felt like it was more about finding the right escape route as opposed to being clever in trying to get away. It almost felt like these chases were put in the game for the sake of giving the player something to be afraid of, but it’s just not implemented in an enjoyable way.
Those hoping for replayability will be glad to see that there are multiple endings to Layers of Fear 2, with different choices to be made by the player throughout that’ll affect the outcome of the story. However, whilst I appreciated the choices, they were often a little too obtuse – whilst the director would guide me along with his enigmatic words, I didn’t really know if I was doing the right or wrong thing (or even if ‘right of wrong’ was part of the equation). Whilst it was often made more clear after you made the choice, I typically felt like I was just making a guess as to what I was doing. Sure, I knew to make the OTHER choice the next time around, but it’d have been nice if things were a bit clearer the first time playing.
Besides the different endings, some players may just want to go through again to get all of the collectibles. There are a wide range of things to find in the game, with photos, movie posters, audio files, and even strange objects to uncover as you’re exploring. Some are pretty easy to find and some will take some exploration to uncover, so most players shouldn’t expect to find them all in one run alone.
One thing about Layers of Fear 2 that deserves some commendation is its presentation. Not only are the visuals mighty impressive throughout, but the way it manages to maintain a solid 60fps (on the Xbox One X) ensured that the game was silky smooth. It was odd that it didn’t give me the option to activate the higher frame rate from the get-go and I had to manually select it in the options, but once I did it made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. I’ve got to give a shout out to the soundtrack too, with each piece of music fitting each scene perfectly. It’s eerie throughout and never strays away from simplistic tunes, but it worked so well and helped add to the sense of unease I felt as I explored each eerie corridor in the game.
Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Gun Media
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC