One year ago, Layers of Fear 2 developer Bloober Team announced it was working on a project with Friday the 13th publisher Gun Media that was eventually revealed to be a sequel to its psychological horror title, Layers of Fear. The similarities between the original and the sequel are thematically apparent, and even though there is no actual story connection between the two, this entry is one of those rare instances where the sequel is better than the original.
Much like the original, Layers of Fear 2 is about an artist's pursuit of a grand project, a final send-off, that drives them into madness. Players control an actor in the 1930s who has agreed to a special role in a film shot upon an ocean liner, but the early and strange instructions from the director, voiced by well-known horror cinema legend Tony Todd, make it clear that this will become so much more.
Layers of Fear 2 promises a "narrative-driven exploration," and for the most part, it lives up to this promise. The narrative is never direct, though, and it's clear that the player character is more than just some random actor who happened upon the role. The connective pieces, however, that bind the PC to the overarching plot are never explained, leaving players to infer most of the story for themselves.
This is somewhat complicated by a seriously layered story, as the past, present, and the future are all called into play through a strange psychological approach to acting. In one part of Layers of Fear 2, it's a clear exploration of the actor's mind and a commentary on the dangers and pain of method acting.
Beyond the thematic components, there are more tangible connections to the world of film and drama via various collectibles. If anything, Layers of Fear 2's use of the history of cinema helps make the game a horror collect-a-thon, as there are posters depicting Shakespearean plays and imaginative Film Noir performances and other collectibles to be found. Combined with the presence of age-appropriate in-game films and phonographs, the ambiance of the game never breaks, even when it takes a turn for terror.
The horror in Layers of Fear 2 is top-notch and is uniquely linked to every aspect of the game. The environment is constantly changing, with there being several instances where the path behind the player ends, disappears, or completely changes. Noises including displaced voices, power fluctuations, and strange, unidentifiable movement keep players on the edge of their seats, even in moments of relative calm. The lighting often turns black and white, giving players the feeling that they are actually in the 1930s. And, when it does take a turn for the dramatic, there's an undeniable feeling that the players have to escape.
This comes into play the most when players are being hunted by the Formless One, a ghoulish manifestation that reappears throughout the story (which is later learned to be yet another metaphor for acting that we will avoid here due to spoilers). The Formless One is easily one of the best parts of Layers of Fear 2 and could rank with the most terrifying monsters in video games, as it could— and often does — appear anywhere.
Because of this, there are quite a few jump scares in Layers of Fear 2. It's at its worst in the early segments of the game, and while some scares feel like the generic, gimmicky scares associated with the horror franchise, many more are deep guttural manifestations of fear, especially as far as the Formless One is concerned. However, after the first few hours of the game, the tricks run out and the fear slowly gives way to the chore of running around whatever lot the game casts the player in.
Exploration in developer Bloober Team's Layers of Fear 2 feels more like mindless wandering that always takes the player in the direction they need. Yes, there are collectibles to incentivize exploration, but these segments tend to just be various rooms on the boat. The core of the story sees players explore a ship, a house from the eye of a child, and more, but while these areas sound fun on paper, the environment lends itself so much to the horror element that environments do not stand out. This is especially true at the midway point in the game, where it's a frequent loop through the same area.
The mid-game exploration loop is made worse in the context of the overarching loop in Layers of Fear 2, as the four main acts (of 5 total) see the player begin and end back in their cabin. It's not a bad method structure-wise, but it still manages to give players a decent level of predictability when playing, thus hurting the overall replayability factor considerably.
Speaking of replayability factor, this could still manage to be a game that film buffs and horror enthusiasts return to again and again. If not for the multitude of connections to the Golden Age of Hollywood, drama, and acting in general or the genuine fear and thrill of the game, Layers of Fear 2 has 3 endings that many may want to seek out. These indubitably represent facets of acting present throughout the whole game, and given the approximated 6-10 hours of play time required to beat the game, are easy enough to achieve. But the general audience would likely not feel the need to dive into the game more than once.
All in all, Layers of Fear 2 has its flaws but stands out as an improvement over the original, which was still one of the scariest games on PS4 and Xbox One. The sequel's mechanics are the same as the first one: there's no combat, puzzles are sometimes obtusely perplexing, and the control scheme can be somewhat clunky. Yet, the criticisms that the first one was heavily reliant upon age-old gimmicks, cheap deaths, and general mediocrity do not hold water with Layers of Fear 2. It is nothing ground-breaking, but it is a unique horror game that can be easily recommended for lovers of the genre.
Layers of Fear 2 is out now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided with an Xbox One code for the purposes of this review.