Layers of Fear 2 Review
Release Date: May 28th, 2019
Developer: Bloober Team
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4 (Reviewed), PC
If you ask a lot of people that are familiar with horror games to list some of their favorites in recent memory, more often than not you'll always get Layers of Fear placed somewhere on their list. Layers of Fear did something so vastly different when it came out in how it terrified players, because rather than being chased by an enemy, put in a dangerous location, or fighting for survival, the environment around you is what shifted in agony, with players in the shoes of someone who's hit rock bottom in their profession, fighting with themselves and struggling to keep any sense of sanity. Narrative was driven by picking up key objects throughout the painter's mansion with accompanying anecdotes in authentic voice acting that was equally as somber and raw in tone. Layers of Fear 2 continues with this, bringing narrative through environmental storytelling while keeping players on their toes as quite literally, in the blink of an eye, the world around them could contort into something entirely different, never giving them a chance to breathe or find a safe space. Layers of Fear 2, much like the first, does such a great job at keeping you uncomfortable as you go through the tale of a troubled actor, that every moment is felt like intense improvisation as you try to quickly decipher what to do next before the walls around you seemingly close in, making Layers of Fear 2 a worth successor to the first, which is arguably the most elaborate "haunted mansion"-esque experience to date.
Layers of Fear 2, while simple in its approach, isn't as consistent as its predecessor, though there are lots that this entry does that does improve on the first. Players are brought aboard a ship where the actor is planned to film, and throughout is spoken to and narrated by the director, voiced by Tony Todd from Candyman fame. His voice lends such an eerie vibe that the dark nature of Layers of Fear is exuded further, but outside of his, well, direction, things can get a little baffling. While Layers of Fear in general is certainly meant to be a psychological horror game that's meant to be borderline esoteric, the second entry has a lot of back and forth moments, going from the actor as a child, looking at things through his sister's eyes, going back to being an adult as you traverse the ship, and other odd narrative choices that almost makes it hard to keep up with. Flashbacks, while fine, felt a little unnecessary, and were riddled with puzzles that felt like more of a frustrating obstacle to prolong gameplay rather than having any real significance to the actor's life and overall narrative. I felt Layers of Fear 2 relied a lot more on sudden shifts in the environment - not to be entirely confused with jump-scares - to help players stay engaged and looking for that next "oh my god" moment, however plentiful, instead of a story with any real cohesion. The first Layers of Fear had the best of both worlds, and while it's possible that the aura of a haunted house in general may always be a lot more palpable than a haunted ship, Layers of Fear 2 still doesn't capitalize as well despite the large shift in focus. It's also possible that the semi-Lovecraft approach didn't connect with me as much, making it less of a satisfying experience. To some, however, it may come as a bonus.
Without making too many comparisons to its predecessor, since there's no real connection outside of a nice little Easter egg early on in the game, Layers of Fear 2 itself still stands out from its contemporaries, delivering a unique experience that sticks with you. Weeks later I still remember most, if not all the significant moments that occurred, as if I played it yesterday. This was the same case as the first Layers of Fear, and shows the prowess of talent within Bloober Team to create a piece of work that isn't just to make you laugh at YouTubers who scream in horror or something quick for you to play over the weekend to give you your fix for the genre - Layers of Fear finds a way to connect with you on a personal level, however small or big, and manages to be memorable and equally enthralling. When the credits rolled after roughly five hours with the game, I just kind of sat there taking it all in (also relieved to finally have regulated my breathing again as well) trying to deduce what had happened. Despite the story in some instances being a little harder to follow, it comes together nicely, and admittedly I was fascinated by all that had happened, making me want to jump back in. There are tons of collectibles to get as well, and due to the intricacies of some of the layouts of the ship and the puzzles, it's doubtful you'll find them all on your first playthrough without a guide, so it entices players to really jump back in and uncover more of the story. It gives further depth into the lore of the characters and the environment you're in, with a bunch more narrative and imagery to help realize it all. Thanks to the plethora of items, New Game+ mode is also available once you've beaten it the first time.
Overall, Layers of Fear 2 continues on what made the first so great and memorable, which is its ability to do mind-bending things in the blink of an eye and truly feel like a psychological trip. You could walk into a room and inspect something on a table, turn around, and the door you went through is no longer there, followed by you turning around again and all of a sudden you find yourself in a kitchen. Layers of Fear has this great way of being mostly free of enemies, and instead making the world around you feel like the antagonist. As the environment shifts in ways both subtle and substantial, the atmosphere contorts and you're never given a chance to breathe or feel safe. While Layers of Fear 2's story is a little harder to follow thanks to multiple perspectives and never being 100% focused on the actor and films, it doesn't change the fact that what you have here from beginning to end is still another great horror game with tons of insane moments much like the first. Layers of Fear has stood out from its peers thanks to the way it carries itself, the art direction, and the clever way it distributes imagery of the grotesque yet beautiful, small but impactful, and poetic while irate nature of its narrative. Oxymoronic is almost a great way to describe why Layers of Fear works so well, because its constant contradictions in environmental storytelling, bringing opposites in unison, taking fragments of various things before ultimately bringing them together in complete cohesion right before the credits roll is truly one of a kind.
Bloober Team has a taste for the Horror genre that is unique and memorable
Tons of collectibles to unearth leave for replay value, and also includes a New Game+ mode
Not as inventive as the original Layers of Fear or Observer
Narrative is a little hard to follow
Audio bugs can ruin the immersion
A big thank you to Bloober Team and Gun Media for sending us a copy for the purposes of this review