Reel Fear - Layers of Fear 2 (REVIEW)
written by Hacksaw Jenny (@hacksawjenny)
As a long time fan of horror games, I checked out the first Layers of Fear game back in 2016 and absolutely loved it! It was inspired by P.T.; the extremely popular demo for the unfortunately cancelled Silent Hills game. Just like P.T., Layers of Fear was a first person walk through game with a creepy atmosphere, intriguing puzzles and a lot of jump scares. Having thoroughly enjoyed the first game, I had been following the development and waiting on the edge of my seat for Layers of Fear 2. What I expected to just be Layers of Fear reskinned with bigger, louder jump scares, left me happily surprised by a game with a nuanced plot and elevated horror.
In Layers of Fear 2 you play a famous actor who is on an ocean liner that is being used as a filming location for an upcoming movie. While you are trying to develop your character in the film, you are coached by The Director, narrated by Tony Todd of Candyman fame. The game is told in five acts that progress in difficulty as you uncover more of the mystery behind your character and yourself. When you begin, the closed off sections of the ship that are being used for filming are pristine and well lit, as is your private cabin which serve as a hub for you to come back to between acts in order to view collectibles. However, as the story itself gets darker, the ship begins to get cluttered, dirty, dark and rat infested. In addition to the main plot, there is also a side story told through found objects and notes. A brother and sister who are playing a game, pretending they are a ship's captain and first mate while trying to avoid being caught by the ship's security staff. As they are being persued, we learn that there may be more at stake than just getting caught playing a game. These particular sections of the game are haunting and beautifully written, with whispered warnings and poetic verse.
The graphics in the game span from period authentic surroundings, to black and white with a vintage film reel filter to mimic being inside an old movie, but always look fantastic. The sound design is impeccable and puts you at a sense of unease from the get go. Unlike some horror games, this one doesn't rely on loud noises and musical cues to scare you, and in stead opts for creating a sense of dread with looming music and eerie whispers. Use headphones if you can, binural sound design makes it seem like sounds are coming from all around you creates an immersive and scary atmosphere.
The gameplay for Layers of Fear 2 consistes mostly of exploration. You will be walking through halls that are constantly changing, looking for clues about who you are, and what kind of character you will be playing in the movie you are set to star in. Layers of Fear 2 could have rested on the laurels of it's predecessor and been a walk through mystery with jump scares, but it adds a lot of depth by giving you smart puzzles that make good use of the changing setting. The film theme is carried from the story to the gameplay by incorporating puzzles where you have to go through a film frame by frame looking for items and clues to help you get out of a closed room. In others, the real world and that of film begin to blend, and you must use this to your advantage by traveling between these different worlds. Aside from exploration and puzzles, we're also introduced to stealth elements that mimic the plight of the children hiding on the boat. The biggest difference between Layers of Fear 2 and the original is that you eventually run into something more menacing than you own inner turmoil. A hulking aparition that chases you through twisting hallways can appear out of nowhere and will kill you if caught. Luckily the game makes frequent use of the autosave feature so you can jump right back into the story without missing a beat. This new mechanic forces you to progress within the story as well as temporarily quickens the pace so that things don't get too monotonous. A welcome improvement from the first in the Layers of Fear franchise.
What really makes Layers of Fear 2 stand out from other horror games is Bloober's understanding of horror, both as a genre and as a concept. As a lifelong horror fan, I often feel like I've seen it all. Nothing scares me. That said, playing through this game was the most scared I've been in a while. The plot of the game is left very vague until the end, which left me second guessing every thing I learned and every decision I made. Between that and the creature chasing me through the halls, I felt like I couldn't rest or relax until I finished each act of the game. I was expecting a lot of jump scares because I had played the first Layers of Fear game when it first came out, so I wasn't getting my hopes up about being scared for I felt I would see it all coming. The game designers must have known that people would be thinking with that in mind, so the jump scare moments were all done carefully with red herrings. You think you know where the scare is coming from, then it doesn't happen, and as soon as you relax you catch a ghostly shadow in a corner sending you into a panic. The game is chock full of references to horror movies, which is perfect for a horror game about making a movie. I can't help but think that the subtle nods to movies like The Shining, The Ring and Se7en are there to show us that they really know what fans of the genre are looking for. In fact, many of the horror references they chose to use are meta, in that they also depict themes from the game, and the inner workings of the mind of the actor.
If you're a true fan of horror, or someone just looking for a good scare, I would absolutely recommend Layers of Fear 2. It takes the simple concept of a first person walkthrough game, and turns it into a simultaneously moving a terrifying experience from start to finish. It's a relatively quick game, clocking in at 8-10 hours playtime, which is broken up nicely into acts in case you need a break. There are also three unique endings so you can get the most bang for you buck.
For a game themed around film making, the twist ending is sure to leave you reeling.
4 out of 5