February 2016 was the release of a relatively unknown title called Layers of Fear; a psychological horror game which turned out to be one of the best horror games released in recent years. Bloober Team could have quite easily left the success of that title there and concentrated on other releases which they have done to a certain degree, but it was only a matter of time before they had to brings the fans a sequel and eventually it is with us all.
The original Layers of Fear went way beyond screwing your senses and emotions up as any good horror should always do. First person perspective saw the player navigating an old house with the scenery constantly changing around you, normally off camera so it would confuse and scare the player at the same time. I’m glad to say that the sequel takes everything that was brilliant about the first game and somehow manages to make it even better. The beauty of both games not coming from what you can see in front of you, but what you think you may have seen and what is constantly changing in your wake.
You became an actor so you wouldn’t have to be yourself.
Layers of Fear 2 is a first-person, psychological thriller, horror video game with an emphasis on exploration and story. Players control a Hollywood actor who heeds the call of an enigmatic director to take on the lead role in a film shot aboard an ocean liner.
Darkness surrounds as you stand silently in the spotlight, the only sounds to be heard over your heartbeat are the distant breaking of waves against the hull and the sound of cameras pointed in your direction preserving this moment for eternity.
A deep and commanding voice rises from the distance. Act.
What part will you play?
The idea behind the original game was an artist gone mad, and Layers 2 has followed up on that idea yet again. This time however it is a movie director whose voice you hear throughout your story echoing out throughout a lifeless ship which you need to explore. There are very few pointers as to what you have to do, it is more a journey of discovery for yourself all the while finding items dotted around which slowly unravel a beautiful backstory, something which, if I’m honest, the original lacked slightly. There was a story there, but there was no real depth to it. The title suggests Layers of Fear, but that’s exactly what it did not produce. This time round it certainly does.
The first was inspired by the ill-fated PT (Silent Hills) with its narrow corridors and little insight into just what you were supposed to be doing, Layers 2 continues in the same style, this time being set on a ship as stated above yet the ship is more of a central hub and the story does see you leaving the area but all the time you still feel connected closely. There are environments and areas that are used on more than a couple of occasions, but allowing a slightly expanded story area doesn’t make the game feel repetitive. The beauty of it all is when you think you have hit a dead end, turn around and the scenery has totally changed, ghostly figures appear at the very edge of your viewpoint and disappear in a split second making you wonder if you really did see anything which makes you wonder if it is you that is going mad.
The graphics are nothing short of beautiful in the game. You really do get a sense of the grandeur of the ship that you are on, but when delving into the realms of madness it changes to what can only be described as a black and white early styled horror film and waiting somewhere out there is a ghostly apparition which if it does catch you, it will kill you (believe me, I died more times than I care to admit in the game). The scenery changes seamlessly around you keeping you on your toes at all times; a door that you have just passed through will disappear when you turn around revealing an entirely new corridor that wasn’t there a second before. There will never be a moment in the game where you feel fully comfortable knowing or understanding the map as it is a constantly changing labyrinth. The lighting is perfect within the game as well, revealing hidden items or just giving you enough of an idea as to where to head in a confined dark room, but not giving too much away constantly keeping you guessing.
The game offers some great puzzles as well. Not just from the changing environment, but to also advance. There was one great instance where I was trapped in a room with a bed, a projector facing an image on a wall and little else. The idea was that I had to find a clue to the image on the wall, from there I could grab an item from that image and use it somewhere else. Then the scenery changed and ahead of me were two men playing cards, one screaming that he needed just one more ace. To do that I had to find another part of the puzzle, place that somewhere, find the card, place that in the players hand, remove the piece of the image I had earlier removed from where it was in place and use that somewhere else which eventually opened the way forward. There are simple puzzles within the game; padlocks which need to be opened and you will find the combination close by within the environment, whether that be scrawled on a wall thats out of your main field of view or by deciphering a few playing cards scattered on the floor. There is never any real help along the way as to how to solve these puzzles, but once you get used to the mechanics of the game you can understand how the minds of the development team work to get through them; although I can’t tell if the guys that worked on this are actually seriously mental or complete geniuses!
There were a couple of small issues that I did find with the game that need to be fixed, although they were minor. There was one part of the game where I was moving through a maze trying to avoid a light which would kill me on impact. To do this there were a few little areas off to the side that were just big enough to get into and avoid it, however, when I did move into those areas the sound within the game disappeared, the moment I stepped back out it came back again. A few times I went to open a door and it wouldn’t open, however, if I let go of the handle and then tried again, it opened then there was also a couple of times where I would go to open a door which isn’t meant to be opened and the scenery behind me changed, but I could also see that transition on the floor in my field of vision which did take away from any confusion as I knew it was happening. As I say though, these are minor issues I found and can easily be patched. It didn’t spoil the game for me at all.
The sound within a game is always a huge part of the overall effect and I’m so happy that Bloober get it right. Whispers filling what you think is an empty room, voices from behind a closed door, the static from a radio in a darkened room (which can be switched off at the set) and the ticking of metronomes all add to the suspense and feel of unease. Of course there is the more traditional scares used within the game as you never encounter another human, rather the use of mannequins are heavily involved but that is all part of the stage presence which is the underlying theme to our actor in the game. Just when you think everything is fine, one of those mannequins will move as you pass sending a chill down your spine. None of the scares are predictable though, every aspect within the confines of this game keep you guessing where the next shock will come from. You think something is going to happen, and it doesn’t. Then when you think you are relatively safe.. surprise!
You can spot some influences within the game from the horror genre but it’s never really ‘in your face’ apparent except one which did scream out to me was The Shining. An instance of the twin girls at the end of a corridor and also the scene where blood pours from the elevator when the doors open was changed for use in the game but I did spot it.
Layers of Fear 2 gets a solid 9/10 from me. The storyline as well as the intertwining story of brother and sister Lily and James has been written beautifully and creates an unsettling atmosphere. This game is possibly one of the best horror games to date, and the 8 hour journey will have you questioning your own sanity at times. Add in the puzzles and overall setting and it keeps getting better and better. Plus the added New Game + upon completion gives a great replay value.
**PLEASE NOTE: AIR Entertainment were supplied with a review copy of the game. This has in no way influenced my views as per our Review Policy**