Acting A Fool

HIGH A new story with similar gameplay.

LOW The unpredictable chase sequences.

WTF Why can’t I open a door with a single button press?

Has it already been three years since the first Layers of Fear?

What started as a game that lingered forever on the Xbox One Preview Program has now seen follow-up DLC, a Masterpiece Edition, a port to the Switch, and a full-fledged sequel in the years since its debut. Developer Bloober Team even released an original sci-fi horror IP (Observer) since then. Long story short, they’ve been busy in those three years. Maybe too busy?

I loved Layers of Fear and championed it as the closest thing to P.T. we’re ever going to get, as it featured first-person horror exploration that relied on more than jumpscares to creep players out. The trick was environmental ambiguity which changed aspects of the immediate vicinity to keep players on their toes — walk down a hallway, find a locked door, and then turn around only to find the hallway changed completely. It also didn’t rely on chase sequences, stealthy hide-from-patrolling-monster sections, nor combat. These were all winning decisions for me.

Layers of Fear 2 follows in the footsteps of the first, except instead of an elderly painter descending into madness, players take the role (pun intended) of an actor who’s accepted a job aboard a cruise ship. I enjoy it when sequels jump off in a new direction instead of directly following their predecessors, so I wish I could say that Layers of Fear 2 is better, scarier and more creative than the first. Unfortunately I can’t.

Where the first felt carefully handcrafted by clever designers, Layers of Fear 2 feels like the product of an AI designing via ‘horror’ algorithm. Walk through a door, pick up a random item, listen to a voiceover from an unidentified character. Walk through another door, pick up another item, listen to another audiolog. Find a locked door, pick up a key in the next room, unlock the door, find another item… wash, rinse and repeat until the credits roll.

The only events breaking up this string of linear, boring hallways are the chase sequences which are so bad I nearly quit playing over them. I can only guess Bloober Team received feedback about the first Layers from people who thought it was too easy, but this new addition only adds frustration.

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The main issue with it is mechanical. Instead of opening a door with a single button press or mouse click, Layers 2 requires positioning the cursor over the door, holding a mouse button and pushing the mouse in the correct direction to open it. Sometimes doors opened toward me, sometimes away, and other times they slid open left or right. This overly-complicated control scheme combined with a monster hot on my heels with an insta-kill does not equal good design.

Worse, the chases aren’t telegraphed the first time they appear, so I felt out of my element when they came around. Once they start, there’s no solid indicator for the rest of the game that a chase is about to happen, so any time a jumpscare or loud noise happened, I started sprinting my ass off thinking one was about to ensue.

The first Layers of Fear hit a sweet spot in slow exploration where I felt fear every time I turned a corner or opened a door. If a door was locked, I breathed a sigh of relief because I didn’t have to experience whatever horrors were on the other side. Layers of Fear 2 switches up that slow-burn horror with jumpscares leaving me dreading chase sequences. However, I wasn’t dreading them out of fear, but annoyance. I prefer to take my time creeping through horror titles, not dashing through so quickly that I don’t get to absorb the environments. Perhaps other players will enjoy this change, but it left me flustered and annoyed.

The story in Layers of Fear 2 feels as uninspired and confusing as its repetitive hallways. Aside from the actor taking a job on a cruise ship, I couldn’t glean much from found documents and audiologs. The people who narrate aren’t identified, and there’s also a ‘master’ narrator in the player’s head too, which only convoluted things further. Who are all these people, and why should I care about them? And are they sharing memories, or something else? Although the game kinda-sorta wraps up in the end, I still didn’t understand what was going on – I was just glad I didn’t have to endure any more chases once the credits started rolling.

Coming from someone who adored the first Layers of Fear, I was ready to love this sequel. Instead, I was disappointed by the dearth of creativity, an overreliance on ineffective audiologs and documents, and multiple insta-kill chases that frustrated me until the end. I used to considered Bloober Team to be the best up-and-coming horror developer around, but either the horror genre is evolving beyond them, or the last three too-busy years have burnt them out.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Bloober Team and published by Gun Media. It is currently available on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Sexual Themes, Blood, Language and Intense Violence. Although I didn’t pick up on the sexual themes or much intense violence in the game, I wouldn’t recommend this for kids or immature players. Most of the game is meant to be suspenseful and it includes jumpscares, some horror imagery and chase sequences in which the player is running away from monsters.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Like many horror games, this one uses sound cues and loud noises to punctuate creepy moments and jumpscares. I think it’s completely possible to play it without sound, but it might be slightly more difficult and lose some of its scary edge. Chase sequences exist and do feature fail-states, so players won’t immediately be cued in if they can’t hear the audio. Layers of Fear 2 includes multiple options for subtitle sizes.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls on the PC version.

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