There’s a certain genre I’m not the biggest fan of, the horror genre. I don’t get any thrills or sense of enjoyment out of running away from things I can’t fight whilst hiding under the table until they casually walk on by. However, a few months ago I reviewed >Observer_ on the PS4, a psychological thriller/horror game from Bloober Team, which I loved. So, when I saw that Layers of Fear 2 was coming out next week, the sequel to their hit 2016 game, I had to play it.
I played the game as everyone else should, as soon as it turned dark I turned off all the lights, put on my headphones, and ensured my drink was in a bottle with a lid (for when I inevitably knock it over with sheer fright). Almost six hours later and I was still shaking as the credits rolled on my first full playthrough of the game. Not only did this game push me to my limits in terms of jumps and horrific imagery, but the game also made me fear my own surroundings, I no longer felt safe in my own home without any of the lights on. Let’s see why…
Layers of Fear 2 is set aboard a large luxury oceanic liner on its maiden voyage. Our protagonist is a Hollywood actor – which we don’t find out the identity of until the final cutscenes – who has been summoned to perform as the lead role for a film whilst the ship is on its journey. However, things aren’t as they seem – the hallways are stripped of life, the walls are painted in blood, and the atmosphere is creepy as heck! Thankfully, you have a rather nice cabin which you are assigned to, so you eagerly await further instructions here, within the safety of these walls.
After watching a rather confusing video which was delivered to you, and taking inspiration from your director (Candyman himself, Tony Todd), the customary mindfuckery which Bloober Team are well known for begins to take place! Just who are you? Why are you actually here? Who are the two children who guide you around the ship with chalk? What the hell is that disfigured creature chasing you around the depths of the ship? And most importantly, Why has the entire ship layout changed as I simply turned around? WTF is going on?
Taking everything the original Layers of Fear did great and expanding on that to deliver a truly terrifying experience, Layers of Fear 2 had me screaming, scared to turn around, and swearing very loudly at my TV for the majority of my playthrough. Regardless of how I felt though, the show must go on…
Layers of Fear 2 isn’t your standard 100% horror game – or at least not what I would class as a horror game. It’s down as a psychological thriller and I believe that’s the best way to describe it. The gameplay itself is broken up between linear exploration, puzzles, stealth and running like your arse is on fire! In a way, I would actually liken this game to Close to the Sun as it has a very similar tense atmosphere aboard a very restrictive ocean liner – only Layers of Fear 2 messes with your head when doors vanish as you turn around, and walking through a door could technically lead you right back into the room you thought you just left…
In terms of the actual ‘horror’ elements, the parts which had me scared to look behind myself in real life, the game delivers them both physically and via the audio. Headphones amplify the atmosphere tenfold, as you’ll hear noises all around you as well as the rather disturbing noises coming for God knows what in the distance. Physical horrors come in the form of everyone’s favourite horror trope, mannequins. Although the ship is absent of any living ‘human’, it’s got plenty of substitutes via hollow statures who’ll appear out of nowhere, sneak up on you, move when you blink, and generally creep you out. There’s nothing worse than reading a note about something horrific then turning to walk away and having a seemingly lifeless doll in your face, staring into your soul.
There is a segment which is too frequent which I wasn’t too keen on – the chase segments. This is the same as we saw in Close to the Sun (almost identical), as a creature chases you for a short while as you run like hell to try and escape. These weren’t too long but you got at least one in each of the five chapters, some containing two or three of them. Thankfully, the autosave is really good, so when you do inevitably get caught, you’ll usually be right before the chase begins once more. I’m not going to lie – these frustrated me a few times as the game was too dark in certain levels, so finding the correct path to run down was tricky. But, a bit of trial and error never hurt anyone, especially when the reload time is only a few seconds.
I had one issue with the controls – when you’re holding R2 to open/close things, such as doors and cupboards, moving the Right control stick (to perform the open/close motion) also moves you camera viewpoint. This resulted in me having to constantly readjust my camera as I would always end up looking at the floor when opening doors (as I invert the y-axis). I’m hoping this could possibly be fixed so that interacting with things no longer moves your view.
Layers of Fear 2 had a number of puzzles which all felt really good to complete. None of them was that difficult (as I managed to do them all), but they were the perfect distraction from the horrifying moments within the game. I especially like the film slide puzzles, as the whole game revolves around filmography. In these, you flick through various slides on a projector and look at the images being projected onto the wall. If you see something which looks out of place, leave it on that slide and go take a look. Some slides cause new doorways to appear or alternative exits from the room you’re currently trapped within. Later on, you’ll also have to switch between multiple slides as you systematically create and then unlock a door to get out.
There are various stealth segments which were very similar to what we saw in >Observer_. I even got through some of them in the same way as I did in that game, simply run all the way until I got to the safe point and just ignored any collectables or notes within the region! I’m not very good at stealth. Although, there is one of them within the gardens which was quite interesting. You have to be stealthy as something is out to get you while you’re within a maze. Not only that, as soon as you start to get chased and you turn around – the layout of the maze changes, making it even more intense and exciting!
Personally, I love Bloober Team and their unique approach to games within this genre. I love how they create a threat, force you down a rather linear pathway, then laugh at you as you’re now faced with having to figure out how you’ll get out of the situation alive – either through a puzzle or running like hell. Despite my own personal dislike of running away from things in games, Layers of Fear 2 is one of the best examples of this mechanic working in a game like this. The chase sequences aren’t too long, the puzzles aren’t ridiculously hard, the jumpscares still get you even though you’re expecting them, and the faceless creature still scared the crap out of me right until the end of the game!
I think my biggest issue with Layers of Fear 2 was my own inability to grasp onto the narrative. I knew the basic premise and I was reading every note I picked up and listening to everything the various characters were saying throughout the game, but I never truly ‘got it’. This is most likely down to me, as I was playing it quite late at night, but the narrative felt like it was a little all over the place as I struggled to keep up with what was going on and why things were now happening when in reality, they shouldn’t be. The ending explained a few things for me, although there are three endings to uncover so maybe I need to go back and play the game a few more times in order to fully understand what’s happening?
Speaking of replaying the game, upon completing all five chapters (which should take you around six to ten hours depending on your skill level), you’ll gain access to a level select. This is handy for those hoping to collect everything the game has to offer as there are a number of collectables for you to find such as movie posters and various notes from the crew. I did a pretty good job on my first playthrough as I only missed two posters, so they aren’t hard to find, but some do require you to go off the guided path and explore a little more.
That leads to my final point about the narrative – Layers of Fear 2 is a very linear game. Before you think I’m being negative, I like linear games as it means you’re experiencing the story the developers have spent many, many hours piecing together. However, those out there who like exploration as they wander around various rooms and look for hidden items and info, there’s not a lot here. Sure, there are some rooms and passages you can take a detour into and look around, but the vast majority of the game is locked until the narrative wants you to enter a specific room or hallway.
As soon as I started playing Layers of Fear 2, I was in awe. The visual quality is far beyond anything I’ve seen within a game like this, especially on consoles. The textures on every single item look immaculate, the handwritten notes you’ll find all look like they’ve scanned in actual notes, the various objects all have different texture materials, and the visual effects come together to create an overall terrifying atmosphere. Another thing which caught my eye and had me love this game, even more, is the defects upon various items. Just like I saw in Red Matter, if you look at a door or wall at an angle with a light source, you’ll see various scuffs and dents in the textures. This really helps pull you into the immersion as the light casts real-time dynamic shadows, which look realistic, upon the imperfect structures.
As Layers of Fear 2 is based on filmography, you’ll seamlessly transition between various visual styles as you play. From the bright and colourful tones of OZ (from the Wizard of Oz) to the black and white aesthetic of Film Noir movies, you never quite know what direction the game is going to take as you step through the next door you encounter.
Another thing I noticed, as I always go into the settings before I start a game to invert the y-axis, was a rather curious framerate toggle. I’m on the PS4 Pro, so I’m not sure if this is on the base console as well, but you can toggle between 30 and 60fps at any time. From what I gather, changing this doesn’t appear to change the resolution, so no 4k@30fps (I think), but I imagine the 60fps mode isn’t 100% 60fps all the time. I tried both modes, 30fps is fine, it works great, but the 60fps mode is what I settled on – although you’ll have to increase your controller sensitivity, as it’s far too low. I never noticed any obvious frame drops or slowdown throughout the whole game – there could be some, but I genuinely didn’t notice any.
To complement the picture-perfect visuals, you’d want amazing sound quality and voice acting. Thankfully, that’s exactly what we get. There are only a few speaking characters within the game – as the mannequins tend to keep quiet – but those who talk have been well cast and deliver their lines with a lot of emotion and depth. Obviously, Tony Todd makes a perfect narrator with his dark and gritty tone. I’d highly recommend playing the game with headphones if you can, it’s still great on standard speakers, but sat all alone in the dark with headphones on is clearly the best way to experience this masterpiece.
Layers of Fear 2 is yet another terrifying masterpiece which will fuck with your mind from the amazing Bloober Team. It finds a perfect balance between jump scares, chasing and stealth segments, puzzles, and following the narrative so that everything feels exciting, suspenseful, and thrilling. Although I found the overall narrative a little hard to follow at times, the action and gameplay you experience throughout your six to ten-hour playthrough will more than keep you engaged – even if you get a little lost in the story.
With the option to play in 60fps and the photo-realistic textures and imperfections on the various structures, the immersion is right up there with games such as Observation. If you’ve played and enjoyed the original Layers of Fear, enjoy horror-based narrative puzzle games, enjoy mystery-thrillers with a hint of the supernatural, or you just like good games, picking Layers of Fear 2 should be a no-brainer.
Layers of Fear 2£15.99
- - Stunning visual quality with realistic defects on most solid structures
- - Amazing voice acting, including Candyman; Tony Todd
- - Intriguing story which panders to fears of the unknown whilst leaving you very unsettled
- - A really good mix of puzzles, linear exploration, chase scenes, and stealth
- - Very subtle, but impactful soundtrack
- - The story is good but I found the overall narrative a little confusing
- - The chase sequences appear too many times, but there is very generous checkpoints just before them
- - Holding R2 and using the Right control stick to open/close doors will also result in your looking in the direction you move the stick, rather than restricting movements when you hold R2