Layers of Fear 2 Review — Little Ship of Horrors
Bloober Team has done tremendous work in creating rich horror narratives that are as compelling as they are scary.
The horror genre is riddled with zombies, aliens, ghosts, and monsters of all shapes and sizes. What sets the Layers of Fear series apart is its poignant focus on the artist. Whereas the first game’s narrative revolves around a painter, Layers of Fear 2 follows an entirely new character, an actor.
With this new character, Jimmy, his past plays a pivotal role in the way the story unravels. You begin by finding yourself aboard a vessel out in the middle of the ocean. Jimmy has been cast in the role of a lifetime and the film is being shot on this very vessel. Right off the bat though, things are unsettling and it quickly becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems. There’s a constant sense of dread.
One of the greatest things about Layers of Fear 2 is that this narrative is so enticing. Like a script that slowly unfolds, it pushes you to move forward. In fact, the game plays out as if it were a movie; its story is broken up into five acts that’ll take you around five to ten hours to fully complete depending on your speed. As the game is set in the early 20th century, the world will constantly go from full color to black and white, as if you were playing the part in a classic film during specific sections.
I really appreciated the fact that Layers of Fear 2 goes for a more linear direction while never completely feeling like it has full control over you. Like the first game, players are able to interact with a multitude of objects spread throughout every environment. You’ll be able to make choices near the end of every act that’ll play into the ways in which the story ends. I constantly groan at the trial and error scare tactics put into so many first-person horror games as they can become repetitive and ultimately take me out of the world these games are building. Of course, Layers of Fear 2 isn’t without its trial and error moments, but I found the objectives to always be pretty clear cut as I never truly got lost.
The formless man acts as the only physical enemy who’ll come after you throughout the game. He’s quite enigmatic for some time, but his presence is total nightmare fuel. Your first encounter with the formless man has you running through a cargo bay of sorts as barrels, shelves, and dinghies block your path. You’ll close sliding doors behind you and as you do, he’ll creep into sight just before you shut the door. Needless to say, my heart rate went up a couple of times and I loved every second of it.
Horror in Layers of Fear 2 is never gratuitous, always serving some purpose, and even giving hints at the mysteries revolving around Jimmy. If you’re into more grotesque horror, you won’t find that here. There are some blood-filled scenes, but it never becomes too much. On top of the formless man, the world is filled with unsettling mannequins, which obviously, Bloober Team had a ton of fun with.
Like the first game, things will move when you’re not looking. For example, you can see a mannequin, look away for a second, look back and then suddenly it’s a foot away from your face. That’s really a special type of creepiness that Bloober Team has mastered. On top of that, the mannequins move at an unnatural frame-rate giving you an uneasy feeling that’ll sit at the pit of your stomach throughout the whole game.
I have a lot to love about Layers of Fear 2, but one glaring issue I had with the game is in its final act. As previously mentioned, you’ll be able to make some key decisions throughout each act, and if you make a certain string of decisions, you’ll get the one ending that’s incredibly uneventful. While I appreciate the ability to have some say over the direction of the story, I felt unsatisfied after my first run-through, especially because I was so incredibly on edge throughout the large majority of the game.
If all three endings had a satisfying conclusion, I’d feel like this design choice was more justified, but as it stands, one of the three endings is an absolute letdown with seemingly no payoff. But I suppose that’s kind of the point too as it’s considered the “bad” ending of the bunch. It definitely serves as an inspiration to go through the game again and get the other endings as they are more enjoyable. With New Game+ it’s quite easy to jump back in, and with the game being pretty short, it won’t take you too long to get through once again.
Without the impeccable sound design found throughout Layers of Fear 2, you simply wouldn’t have an excellent game. In the game’s opening credits, it’s recommended that you play with headphones and I couldn’t agree more. I used my PlayStation 4’s Platinum wireless headphones on the PC version of the game which allowed for some ridiculous audio. If you have the means to use a similar setup, by all means, I can’t recommend it enough. If you don’t, unfortunately, I can’t lie and say you wouldn’t be missing out because you completely are.
Speaking of sound, the game has The Candyman himself, Tony Todd, narrating specific parts of your journey. Naturally, Todd’s voice adds a sense of personality to this story that some of the other performances don’t meet. I would assume that this comes with Todd’s experience in the film genre as a whole. That’s not to say the other performances are bad, because there’s really only a handful, but Todd’s is just a masterclass of modern horror. Bloober Team did a great service to the story by incorporating his voice.
Todd isn’t the only reference to previous horror films found throughout Layers of Fear 2. You can find a variety of Jimmy’s previous film posters scattered throughout the ship, which when examined, look noticeably similar to horror films of the past. But not only that, some posters and additional nods reference films that pioneered the industry as a whole like A Trip to the Moon (1902) or The Wizard of Oz (1939). Even some of the scares go as far as almost blatantly referencing classic scenes from horror’s history. It works for the most part as there’s enough of Layers of Fear 2’s own identity that it never gets overshadowed by its abundance of references. If you’re a film buff, these inclusions will be an absolute treat to explore further as I’m sure I missed many things.
Layers of Fear 2 is one of the best pure horror games I’ve played in some time. Bloober Team has created a title that pushes common horror tropes aside for something more fascinating and exciting. While I ultimately left unsatisfied with my first run, the journey to the end was a hell of a ride that had me uneasy in the best ways the entire time.