I’m a big fan of first-person horror games. I love the immersion that comes from the perspective. Resident Evil 7, Outlast, and the first Layers of Fear are the obvious standouts from this generation of games. I’ll be honest, Layers of Fear scared the crap out of me, and I was really excited when Bloober Team announced that they were making Layers of Fear 2.
Despite really enjoying my time with Layers of Fear, I thought the horror was a bit in your face with scares. Layers of Fear 2 remedies that, which was my biggest problem in the first title. Instead of focusing on jump scares (there are still plenty of those) the horror is more psychological; a building sense of dread.
Where a doorway once stood, a wall might be there when you turn around. While exploring an area a random plate or bust might fall off a shelf with no source of movement. It’s a different type of fear at play here, and one that’s a bit more nuanced than the initial outing.
Layers of Fear 2 puts players in the shoes of an actor aboard a luxury cruise ship. The zany director of the film doesn’t want him to know too much though, and wants him to experience the horror occurring on the ship naturally through his own experiences.
Fun fact: the director of the film is voiced by Tony Todd, who has a number of voice acting credits from games and animated shows, but is probably best known for his work in Final Destination and Candyman. It’s a very distinct voice, and one I recognized immediately.
While we’re on the topic of voice work, the acting here is top notch. There’s little in the way of actual on-screen voice acting, and instead Layers of Fear 2 opts to tell most of the story through vignettes that play when exploring the world and examining items. The pervasive story that exists here is one of two children that spent a lot of time (maybe even lived?) on this ship, and spent their days pretending to be pirates.
There are a lot of really great moments littered through the six-hour journey that I won’t spoil. However, like the fear and dread, it’s a nuanced way of story-telling that a lot of games don’t get right, but Bloober Team nailed it here.
Even the way that Layers of Fear 2 helps players explore is incredibly creepy. As our actor explores the ship, there are a lot of items for him to examine that trigger intimate bits of storytelling. Some of them are easy to miss, so to alert players of their presence, whispers can be heard by numerous people in the background. It’s smart to play this on a surround sound setup, or with a headset, because the audio design is fantastic.
Some points throughout the game present players with a choice as well. Most of these occur near the end of chapters, and aren’t always obvious that there is even a choice option taking place. Some of them require out of the box thinking, and some additional exploration by players.
These choices can lead to different endings in Layers of Fear 2 and can result in three different endings for players. Since Layers of Fear 2 is a bit shorter and more contained than other horror titles, it adds quite a bit of replay value for those wanting to see everything the title has to offer.
Visually, Layers of Fear 2 is pretty solid as well. Some portions are entirely in black and white, and the color scheme can change on the fly. It adds a bit more depth to the appearance of the game, especially when players spend most of their time walking up and down hallways. Layers of Fear 2 is an extremely linear game, but the twisting corridors and disappearing doors often make it feel larger than it actually is.
While most of the horror is more nuanced than I expected, there are apparitions and monsters to frighten as well. It seemed like apparitions appeared mostly during the black and white sequences, and it was unnerving to be walking down an empty hallway just to have “someone” appear for a brief moment before flashing away.
The monster threat appears throughout the course of the game, but most of these encounters devolve into sprinting away or hiding in a room.
The chase sequences are pretty intense though. The second or third time that creature appeared I had to dash through a mannequin filled room while opening and closing doors behind me to slow its progress. I often found opening and closing doors a little touchy, and I died a few times during this chase just because I couldn’t get a door to open or shut. Despite having to go through the same chase a several times, I found each encounter just as intense as the first, with some sort of beast nipping at my heels.
Despite the occasional pacing issue, I found Layers of Fear 2 to be a haunting, nuanced horror title. I really liked the first Layers of Fear, but the sequel seems to have found its footing, and Bloober Team should build on the formula here instead of reverting to jump scares. I’m excited to see what the developers choose for the setting of their next title, and to keep bringing this level of horror title to a genre that often doesn’t get enough love.