After the disturbing Layers of Fear and the cyberpunk adventure >observer_, the guys from Bloober Team return to horror with Layers of Fear 2, taking us into the world of cinema at the beginning of 1900, on a nava full of mysteries. Here’s what to expect.
Despite the “2” in the title, Layers of Fear 2 can be easily enjoyed without ever having heard of the first episode. The game offers us characters, environments and events completely unrelated to the first title, but keeping as a common thread fear, anguish and madness. The protagonist of the game is an actor called to shoot a film in the first half of the twentieth century, on board a cruise ship full of rich tourists. Soon, however, strange things begin to happen: objects that come to life, bizarre creatures that torment the protagonist, the architecture of the ship that changes in ways that go against every physical and logical law. How much of this is pure madness, and how real is it? But above all, what is happening?
Layers of Fear 2 is in itself a fairly straightforward adventure. Few choices, few deviations even if some lead to collectible objects such as movie posters or photos, viewable in your own room of this ship that serves as a luxurious hotel in the waves. It’s a fairly classic first-person adventure, along the lines of the first episode of the saga: you explore corridors, rooms and everything that the game puts in front of the player. There are no fights, the puzzles are few and simple enough, there are some parts of skill that I’ll talk about later, but the highlight of it all is the storytelling, the creation of a game world that changes before the eyes of the player. In Layers of Fear the “trick” was that everything around the player could change unexpectedly. You would enter a room, look back, and the door was no longer there, replaced by a corridor. You would turn around a corner and find yourself in the same corridor as before. This is also reflected in the new episode, but it’s no longer the main theme of the game, so it’s used more sporadically to make some situations more impactful. Layers of Fear 2 focuses on other elements to leverage players’ fears and emotions.
It must be said that the game is capable of varying greatly from the relative monotony of the first chapter thanks to many types of puzzles, surreal scenes of all kinds that in the madness of the protagonist catapult him into childhood memories or to live real movie scenes. Almost constant element of this brutal world are the stage mannequins, which at the beginning of the game are rightly stationary and in appropriate positions, but that with the spread of madness begin to come to life and animate even rooms that seem lifeless. Elements of terror, however, are mainly given by the almost constant presence of a humanoid monster reminiscent of the mythical Slenderman, who terrorizes and pursues the player several times in real sessions of fierce escape through the corridors and narrow rooms of the ship that, in fact, can change unexpectedly. There are also other sections with the use of blinding lights that pass through a large number of rooms or white flames that are fired from the sky and must be avoided to continue. It’s always a first-person adventure along the lines of the most famous “walking simulators”, but this time the guys at Bloober Team take some tiny cues from games a bit ‘more lively in this genre such as Outlast.
As said, however, the focus remains to tell a story, try to give a reason to the strange visions of the protagonist and give a context to the strange events that take place on the ship – provided that they are true and not all the result of imagination. To do this, Layers of Fear 2 presents players with many different gameplay situations, many of which are really creepy and disturbing and are not afraid to deal with issues such as death, murder, physical violence and abuse. To do so, use the powerful and versatile Unreal Engine 4, which is used very well to create scenarios at the limit of photorealism, and with an impressive attention to detail. It’s so possible to collect clues by reading scattered sheets of newspaper, get an idea of the time and the type of person who lived in a room based on the objects that are around, leading also to puzzles where you have to interact with small objects found in the midst of many others. Interactions with the environment are however quite limited and feasible only in certain circumstances, so there is no risk of having to collect or observe hundreds of unnecessary objects for the purposes of plot and progress.
Layers of Fear 2 does not disdain the jumpscare as a horror element, but the effect generates it especially with the uncertainty of their senses (since the surrounding world can change without warning) and with the always impending presence of the aforementioned monster. It’s more anguish than fear, since the difficulty of the title is rather low and dying does not have particularly serious consequences, if not to return behind a few minutes of play at most. It is also by the way a very linear game, although there are some more excited moments of the plot where you can choose between two options, with different results between them. The longevity is around 9-10 hours, with a limited replayability if not for the presence of some collectible and the already mentioned choices in the plot. The title is also translated into Italian as far as texts and subtitles are concerned, while the spoken word remains in English.
Engine… action! – The theme of the game, the cinema of the early twentieth century, is undoubtedly fascinating. Several areas of the ship are full of film set mannequins, cameras, completed recording films, and the madness of the protagonist who soon makes himself felt makes him live nightmares of a decidedly cinematic kind, with this approach that influences his flashbacks and thoughts, for example by applying a black and white filter to different events or seeing the mannequins reinterpret scenes that have been tormenting him for decades. The title is a love letter to the seventh art, using the eighth as a medium: video games.
More varied madness – If the first Layers of Fear took place almost entirely within the rooms and corridors of a house in constant evolution, the following brings more varied scenarios. The game takes place on a ship in the first half of the twentieth century where you’re shooting a film, but between illusions, nightmares and hallucinations you end up in different eras and areas really different from each other, including dark caves and urban areas. The increased variety compared to the first title of the saga is also noted in the gameplay, as there are numerous sequences that lead the player to escape from danger, solve puzzles, even some occasional part of skills that do not specific better to avoid spoilers. It’s still a first-person horror game that focuses all on exploration and fear, but we are pleased to see that the game dares to try to upset the formula from time to time.
Crazy Views – Layers of Fear 2 is one of those games where every few minutes you feel the need to make a screenshot: a bit ‘because the graphics department is really great, but especially because at the artistic level is full of situations and fascinating views. Parts in color and black and white, distorted worlds, animated scenes “in shots” like vintage films and others worthy of the best horror films in circulation. The game world is really full of charm and disturbing elements, and their technical realization makes them also highly spectacular. The predominantly small areas of the title have allowed the developers to focus an impressive level of detail even on small objects of the scenario such as glasses or vases, and the result is really one of the most photorealistic video games on consoles at the moment.
Filler on filler – When I reviewed the first chapter, criticizing the short duration of the title, I wrote this: “it’s better to have 3-4 hours of high quality than a heated soup that lasts twice as long. Well, probably the developers do not think the same way since that’s exactly what happened in Layers of Fear 2: there are many great ideas that would have created another memorable horror for 3-4 hours, but these were spread over 9-10 artificially inflating the title with the repetition of many elements. So get ready to redo puzzles equal to 5-6 times, explore the same area as many times for plot needs, but also to cross areas really uninteresting that are just corridors between one point and another. The third act of the title, in particular, is something I did not want to believe: having to cross the same ventilation duct for the sixth time to return for the umpteenth time in the same house was an experience to bang your head against the wall. And this also has a significant impact on the narrative: once you start to understand something about what’s happening, the game is already in a descending qualitative parable.
Exercises of frustration – Maybe it’s to make the game more varied, or maybe it’s a choice aimed at further lengthening the duration, the fact is that there are some sections that are not scary and do not put a strain on the meninges, ending up rather frustrating. For example, in the stages in which we must escape from the monster is very easy to stumble without noticing obstacles hidden by the darkness, making us reach and forces
Frustration exercises – Maybe it’s to make the game more varied, or maybe it’s a choice aimed at further lengthening the duration, the fact is that there are some sections that do not scare and do not put a strain on the meninges, ending up rather frustrating. For example, in the stages when we have to escape from the monster is very easy to stumble without noticing obstacles hidden by the darkness, making us reach and forcing us to start over. Then there are puzzles whose solution is anything but logical leading us to try anything until we stumble upon the solution by chance.
More technical problems – The game has some frame-rate problems, making the escape phases a bit more frustrating, and there are also occasional problems loading assets, which sometimes load a few moments after the player turns to them. The strangest problem I found instead in the commands, which at certain stages of the game did not seem to work properly, forcing me to return the same input several times. And that’s compounded by quite frequent and long loads. Not very serious problems, but certainly a bit ‘annoying.
Layers of Fear 2 takes a step back from the excellent first title in the series: the creative ideas are not lacking and the variety is much greater, but soon you come up against numerous repeated and / or frustrating sections, which dilute those really successful with the aim of bringing the game to last at least twice as long as it would have been necessary. The game starts well as a concept and atmosphere, but after a few hours it simply becomes boring. A shame, because Layers of Fear 2 presents us with lots of fascinating scenes and breathtaking areas, but they are accompanied by far too many wrong design choices to be able to lift the game.