I must admit that I never played the original Layers of Fear, mostly because I’m a complete sniveling baby when it comes to horror games. Fortunately, Bloober Team’s Layers of Fear 2 is a self-contained story that doesn’t require you to play the first game, though it does follow in the footsteps of its predecessor by delving into the twisted mind of an insane artist. Despite my initial trepidations about reviewing a game in a genre that I’m normally too scared to even touch, I’m ultimately glad I did, because Layers of Fear 2 is a very atmospheric and immersive story-driven horror game that I could never have predicted that I’d enjoy as much as I did. Though, given the grim subject matter and horrifying environments, “enjoy” probably isn’t the right word.
Layers of Fear 2
Publisher: Gun Media
Developer: Bloober Team
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: May 28th, 2019
In Layers of Fear 2, you play as a troubled actor that has managed to land the lead role in the magnum opus of a famous yet enigmatic movie director. The director’s latest movie will be filmed on an ocean liner traveling from England to the United States, during the vessel’s maiden voyage.
The director is well-known for his bizarre methods that are designed to encourage the actors in his movies to dig deep within themselves to “become” the character that they are playing, and it doesn’t take long for the protagonist to begin their rapid downward spiral into madness.
The director and your character aren’t the only actors in this demented performance, however. The game also tells the story of two children, Lily and James.
These siblings dream of adventures on the high seas and buried treasures hidden on tropical islands as a means of escapism from their troubled home life, and sneaks aboard the cruise ship in the hopes of finding a better world. These two characters gradually become more and more entangled in the main storyline as the game slides ever deeper towards its twisted and tragic finale.
At its heart, Layers of Fear 2 is a horror-themed narrative adventure that’s fairly light on gameplay or challenge, a “walking sim” as many people like to call them these days. The majority of your time in the game is spent traversing the claustrophobic corridors of the ship, listening to narration or interacting with objects scattered around the environment.
Some are letters, newspaper clippings, or transcripts, while others give you a short bit of narration based on a snippet of the item’s dark history. There’s also some collectables, like movie posters, phonograph recordings, and projector slides, that give you a cryptic message or image related to the game’s overarching plot and themes. No matter their purpose, each item gives you clues and story tidbits that will help you piece together the game’s enigmatic plot.
Item and environmental manipulation is fairly well done in general. You have to manually slide locks on sealed doors, twist valves by drawing circles with your mouse, pull open curtains, and more. While this is all a nice touch and really helps immerse yourself into the game world, the mouse sensitivity in some places is a bit wonky, making what should be a simple task more tedious than it should be. There’s a few parts in particular where the mouse struggled to register my inputs in a responsive manner.
That’s not to say that the game is completely devoid of gameplay, however. Layers of Fear 2 does have puzzles to solve between all the walking and narration. While none of them are particularly hard, some of them are pretty unique and clever.
My personal favorites are the ones based around manipulating slides on a projector. These puzzles usually involve combining slides in different ways to create physical manifestations of the image, such as keys, doors, or other items you need to advance further in the game.
As with most horror games, Layers of Fear 2 also features some segments where are you being chased by a mysterious, hideous monster. Unfortunately, I feel that these segments are the weakest parts of the game.
They almost always involve running a short distance through linear corridors before the monster touches you, which will trigger a tedious, roughly five second long cut scene that amounts to the monster screaming “ooga booga booga!” before running at you. The screen then fades to black, you get a quote about death or cowardice, and the game spends another few seconds reloading your last autosave.
It’s not particularly scary, and gets old fast. You normally get fair warning in the longer chase sequences, but there’s other cases where the monster very suddenly appears a short distance away, giving you a fairly small margin of error to avoid an annoying cut scene and a quote mocking your demise. It feels a bit too much like trial and error in some places, especially during a maze segment towards the end of the game.
The linear corridors, annoying cut scene, and sudden appearance in some areas all combine to make what should be tense and frantic moments kind of boring and infuriating. Seeing the monster always filled me with dread, not because it was scary, but because the sequences that involved it were always just so uninteresting. There’s no stealth or hiding, just brief sprints through confined, straight hallways.
The linearity of the game is another disappointing aspect in Layers of Fear 2. Aside from a few side rooms here or there with collectables, most of the game is a straight path with no real deviation. There’s plenty of locked doors and dead ends, with really no true exploration as you walk from the beginning of an act to its end.
However, the game’ oppressive atmosphere, haunting score, and great writing and voice acting help make up for these flaws. Layers of Fear 2 is at its best when it allows you to just take your time absorbing it’s demented and sickening environments while listening to the nonsensical ramblings of an insane director or the tragic tale of two children in a desperate situation.
The audio design is great all around, with tons of disturbing whispers, creaking floorboards, and other creepy sound effects that enhance the environments. Headphones are a definite must to get the full effect of the audio and how its used to draw you into the game’s world.
As an aside, I’d like to talk about some of the game’s lighting effects. There’s a seizure warning before the main menu, and with good reason. The game uses lots of desaturated colors with bright, flickering beams of light.
Film plays a central role to the game’s story, and there’s lots of dark areas that symbolically use these beams of light to replicate the effects of a movie projector. Indeed, actual theaters with projectors are commonplace throughout the game as well.
My point is that even as someone who doesn’t usually have issues with light sensitivity, there were a few areas where the combination of dark, desaturated greys and piercing beams of light gave me a headache and made me feel a bit dizzy.
Admittedly, I understand that making you feel uncomfortable is the entire point in these effects, and Layers of Fear 2 definitely succeeds in that regard. However, if you do have extreme light sensitivity issues, or are at risk of having seizures, then you may have issues playing some areas in the game. Actually, if you have a seizure disorder its best to avoid the game altogether.
For those interested in game length, I beat Layers of Fear 2 in around six hours. I only missed about two or three of the game’s collectables, so I imagine that 100-percenting the game won’t add much to that completion time. For some people, the $30 price tag for about six hours of content might be a little steep, especially since there isn’t really a whole lot of replayability.
While I did enjoy the game, or as much as one could enjoy having what amounts to a playable bad acid trip through Hell, I’m aware that the price/time investment ratio might be a sticking point for some. Personally, I felt that the game was just the right length for the story its trying to tell, but game price and length is a fairly subjective thing and your mileage may vary.
I don’t normally enjoy horror or really linear games too much, but Layers of Fear 2 was able to draw me in with its creepy and oppressive atmosphere, well-written and acted dialog, interesting puzzle ideas, and haunting melodies.
It certainly has its fair share of flaws, and anyone looking for a horror game that’s less linear and features more gameplay might be a bit disappointed by it, but Layers of Fear 2 is still worth experiencing at least once.
Layers of Fear 2 was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by Gun Media. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.