Because games like Layers of Fear 2 are so dependent on the slow, uncomfortable uncovering of their stories, I’m going to try to avoid spoilers here – I want to give my honest thoughts on the game so that others can consider purchasing and playing it. There are a couple surprises, though, that are impossible to avoid talking about because they factor so strongly into my feelings on this game.
Like it’s the first Layers of Fear, 2 drops the player into what seems at first to be a normal scene. A lovely, empty room on a ship awaits you – everything seems normal and in its proper place. After a look through your accommodations, there’s nowhere to proceed but to the hall, where fire, smoke, and empty corridors await you. This time around, there’s a lot more dialogue in the mix. You’ll spend most of your time uncovering two seemingly separate stories – the plight of two children hiding aboard the liner, and an increasingly tense monologue on the realities of acting. As fits the very early discovery that a movie is being shot aboard, unnerving mannequins are littered along the path, forever leaving you with the feeling that you’re not truly alone.
This is where Layers of Fear 2 separates itself quite a bit from the first – you certainly aren’t alone, as you find out soon enough. Within the ship, there’s another entity. Perhaps a monster, perhaps a ghost, it comes with a shocking distortion of reality and inhuman scream before it comes for you. To survive, you’ll need to escape quickly. Should it catch you, you’ll face an instant death and begin again shortly before its appearance. In all honesty, this was my least favourite thing about the game. If I had known about it, I might not even have played at all.
The addition of an enemy entity/monster/spirit – whatever you want to call it – that causes instant death does make the game scarier. It maintains a feel of desperation to escape, and the horror that it might be around the next corner, or behind the next door. But it does so cheaply. There are a million horror games out there that inspire fear by making the player sit on the edge of their seat, listening for clues, and force them to run as fast as they can when the moment comes. That’s not to say I don’t like those games. I love horror – when I’m too afraid to play a game, I still love to watch others play. I research the lore behind ones that I find interesting. Creepy in a non-horror game always catches my interest. What I’m saying is that there aren’t a million games out there like the first Layers of Fear.
Layers of Fear set itself apart from other narrative, first-person, explorative horror games by being actually scary instead of only unnerving. Even better, it’s scary while also forcing you to explore. Good and bad endings aside, there are no wrong doors to open or places to speed through as fast as you can or else. The player is encouraged to pay attention to every detail of the horrific nightmare they’ve walked into. The only other entity that seems to be wandering the house shows up rarely, and the decision of whether or not to interact with it is more about the ending you’ll get, instead of instadeath. You don’t have places to hide, nor do you know what the ghost’s objective is (unlike 2’s monster, which clearly seems ready to kill you) – you can face the unknown in whatever way you want to. Any game can be scary because you’re being chased, but not just any game can accomplish being scary in a psychological labyrinth of loneliness. Layers of Fear was an elegantly done nightmare, and while it’s not fair to hold Layers of Fear 2 to be just the same as its predecessor, it’s perfectly fair to have expectations when a new game takes up the mantle of another.
Some puzzles were excellently clever – my favourites included creating objects and doors with film. The mechanics that involved avoiding light, flames, or the monster were far less enjoyable. However eventually the game seemed to lose steam under the weight of those tropes. In fact, they were mostly unnecessary – the game’s great atmosphere doesn’t need to be ruined by fire traps or monsters, and in the end I’m not sure it always carries the weight of everything it tries to throw in.
That said, Layers of Fear 2 is not at all a bad game. It’s not even mediocre. It’s interesting, sometimes quite clever, and downright terrifying at many points – by all means, an excellent addition to the horror genre. I had heard some complaints about the additional dialogue, but honestly for me the story was too compelling to be bothered. I looked forward to the next bits of dialogue because I was so invested in uncovering the mystery of what had taken place on this ill-fated journey. For the most part, they were still short enough to maintain the mysterious atmosphere, though there were some moments where a voice would keep shouting instructions on how to proceed and it became a little annoying.
Graphically, it’s a stunning game. Beyond the darkness and haze, scenes are beautifully detailed and look fantastically real, though I did not quite love the black and white sections and blinding lights, with actually hurt my eyes quite a bit. The vivid scenes are an especially welcome thing in horror, where graphics can often come second to jump scares and chase scenes. Musically it’s also excellent – like the first game, it presents a dark, suffocating atmosphere that feels like truly being lost in a nightmare. The voice acting is wonderful as well – the dialogue was believable – sometimes a rare thing in horror games, where forced-sounding fear and anger aren’t uncommon. The callbacks to the history of film are sometimes clever, sometimes laughable (in particularly, there was a Shining reference that made me laugh, which I think wasn’t the expected response).
Overall, Layers of Fear 2 is definitely a solid horror experience with plenty of scares, a tragic story, and impressively claustrophobic atmosphere, and it should appeal to both fans of narrative, exploration-based horror games and survival horror. For me, it was a bit of a disappointment, but that’s because the first Layers of Fear left me with high expectations and I was so excited to finally have something give me a similarly crafted experience. I was also excited to have something new, but I felt like I was walking through a game similar to ones I’d already seen before. It’s certainly worth playing if you enjoy exploration-based horror, but sadly, I didn’t find myself falling in love again, no matter how much I wanted to.