Let me start off by saying, I am a huge wuss when it comes to horror. Even the lamest scary movie will keep me up at night, especially if there are clowns, mannequins, or creepy children involved. Yet for some reason, I’m drawn to horror games time and time again. Frankly, I guess I just like being scared. This is our Layers of Fear 2 review.
A few years ago, I played through a little game called Layers of Fear. It was mediocre at best. The worst part about it was that I saw its potential. It attempted to do psychological horror rather than just throwing cheap jump scares at the player. Don’t get me wrong, jump scares have their place (and Layers of Fear threw in a few), but I like to be scared on a whole different level. Unfortunately, psychological horror is really hard to pull off, and as a result, the original Layers of Fear simply wasn’t scary. So when I heard about Layers of Fear 2, I had hope. Hope that Bloober Team could take what they had learned from the original and make a great sequel. The results are… mixed.
In Layers of Fear 2, you play as an unnamed actor in the midst of filming a movie on a 1950s era cruise ship. You’ll quickly see that things aren’t really as nice as your posh surroundings would have you believe. Much like the original game, the story of Layers of Fear 2 will be slowly revealed to you as you walk your way slowly through the corridors of the boat. I mean that somewhat literally, as Layers of Fear 2 is very much a walking simulator. There are no weapons to equip. There is no inventory management. There are no real stealth or hiding mechanics (mostly). There is only tension. And doors. Lots of doors. And spotlights. So many spotlights.
While I’d never thought about it before, a boat is a good choice for a walking simulation game, as cruise ships either consist of long hallways with tons of rooms on each side, OR they are a maze of rooms from which you’ll never return. The setting works well in Layers of Fear 2, subverting expectations to the point where you’re never quite sure what’s real or not. It frequently blends hallways, movie sets, the bowels of the ship, and scenes that might just be illusions/delusions, and it does this almost seamlessly, often without warning. I felt this is where Layers of Fear 2 shines when compared to its predecessor. The original game took place in a creepy mansion, which, let’s be honest, has been done many times before. Going in, you kind of know what to expect. But the cruise ship creates this sense of unease since you are never quite sure where the next door will lead. Combine this with the slow burn of the story, where new pieces are slowly revealed to you, and you end up with a compelling reason to keep going.
At the end of each chapter of the game, you are brought back to your stateroom, where you can put additional pieces of the puzzle together depending on whether or not you took the time to explore. Layers of Fear 2 had my whole group of friends guessing at what had actually happened on the Good Ship Lollipop (as I’ve just now decided to call it), which I feel is a sign of a good, intriguing story.
However, not everything in Layers of Fear 2 hits the mark. At certain points, the game relies on good ol’ fashioned chase sequences, which just felt out of place in a game that, up until a certain point, was about messing with your psyche. It doesn’t help that the only real challenge in these chase sequences are the somewhat clunky door opening mechanics, where you have to click on the door handle and then swing the door open. While this type of mechanic isn’t anything new, it just never seems to work quite right in Layers of Fear 2. I found myself swinging doors open when I didn’t want to, and doors opening at a crawl when I was in a hurry. But even when the doors didn’t work right, chases STILL aren’t challenging. They’re just a minor annoyance, and, for me, killed the tension the game had built up to that point. Suffice it to say, I was more scared of a simple vase falling off a table at the beginning of the game than anything Layers of Fear 2 sent running after me later on.
The other portions that don’t tend to work are “dodging” portions. I won’t go into too much detail other than saying that you just have to duck behind a box and wait for the threat to go away, then move to a box a few feet away and duck again. Repeat. Once again, this kills the pacing and tension that Layers of Fear 2 had been so good at building.