Bloober Team’s 2016 surprise hit, Layers of Fear, saw players take on the role of a tortured artist striving to create his magnum opus while simultaneously coping with alcoholism and trauma. It was a terrifying descent into madness as the main character was mercilessly haunted by ethereal memories and tormented by a living house with rooms that changed almost on a whim. Furniture would flip from floor to ceiling, fruit would go rotten right before your eyes, and you were on the world’s worst scavenger hunt for increasingly gruesome collectibles.
Layers of Fear 2 clearly has big shoes to fill. Its predecessor wrapped up its story between its initial campaign’s multiple endings and the subsequent DLC, so Bloober were left to look elsewhere for another artist to torment in another unsettling environment. Cue the actor! Ready the ship! Prepare the shockingly autonomous mannequins to move when you least expect them to! Oh yeah, there will be jump scares.
Its almost as if Bloober Team drew influence from the horror stories of how “genius” director Stanley Kubrick tormented his actors in order to capture raw, unimaginable horror on film. So much so that there’s a hidden room that references the iconic hallway scene from The Shining that you can view through a hole in a wall. Don’t dawdle there too long, however, as your own director is dead set on seeing his very own masterpiece on the silver screen. And you, too, have a role to play. This role means that you do lose a bit of the autonomy you enjoyed in the first Layers of Fear.
While the previous game gave players the ability to explore the giant mansion at a whim, with only minor prodding to guide them to important locations, Layers of Fear 2 goes full on linear. This is kind of important given that you’re being guided by the director with the intent of creating his masterpiece. You’re a pawn, and that is evident throughout the game as you are guided from room to room. While the linear paths are carefully crafted into the world, they’re also glaringly obvious at their effort to direct your movement. This does culminate into scenes where you’re given the choice as to whether to follow the director’s guidance or to deviate and do your own thing.
While the first Layers of Fear was focused on the painter’s descent to madness, it did have a parallel story line that could be uncovered gradually with exploration. Similarly Layers of Fear 2 begins with the actor’s story, with his relationship to this mysterious new role for a film, but it slowly peels back the layers of its narrative to reveal that there are other stories, such as the subplot of a young set of siblings stowed away on the boat, and their efforts to avoid the crew.
Additionally, our protagonist is being stalked about the ship by a ghostly, formless man who briefly chases the player through the ship’s winding corridors. These types of chase sequences did occur in the first Layers of Fear, though the frequency of them is much higher in Layers of Fear 2. They also require near perfect accuracy in navigating obstacles in order to clear, and if you are caught by the formless man then you are forced to restart at the previous checkpoint after being chastised with a random yet morbid quote pertaining to death. Given that most of Layers of Fear’s gameplay revolves around casual exploration and simple puzzle solving mechanics, the forced chase sequences and their spike in difficulty feel like the weakest link of an otherwise exceptional horror experience.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher