As Randy from Scream said, "The entire horror genre was destroyed by sequels."
Bloober Team knew just how to market its first title directly to me: before knowing what Layers of Fear was, I received random documents in my physical mailbox, teasing me with a horrific mystery which would slowly unfold before my eyes. Much like I was hyped for The Blair Witch Project long before actually interacting with it, I devoured any information I could find ahead of playing Layers of Fear itself. If you’ve not played it, you really should — it’s a brilliant little experience that delves into the psyche of a troubled Victorian painter.
But never mind that — we’re sadly here to talk about Layers of Fear 2.
Bloober’s sequel starts you off in the stateroom of a seemingly deserted cruise liner, providing just enough clues for you to place yourself as a Hollywood actor. Unaware of what’s happening beyond that, you leave your quarters with a simple set of instructions: prepare for a big audition by finding and crafting your character.
What follows is a walking simulator with an amazingly detailed atmosphere, especially in terms of sound design. The mixture of nautical and Hollywood themes is strange and off-putting, dropping you into a sense of unease that’s quickly ruined by predictable jump scares. Worse yet, proceedings are entirely linear, usually consisting of twisting hallways that connect hub rooms full of simplistic puzzles and secret items. In the end, I found myself more fixated on finding collectibles than to let myself be immersed in the situation. Because of that, I was hardly ever scared by what was going on.
Part of the somewhat lacklustre nature of Layers of Fear 2 is that in it’s homage to horror in its many forms, it far too frequently relies upon endless tropes from classics like Nosferatu, The Shining, The Wizard of Oz (!) and even George Méliès’ Le Voyage Dans La Lune (I knew that obscure film class I took at Uni would pay off some day). Rather than tapping into the strange world it dumps you into — and even with the low rumbles provided by its narrator, Tony Todd (Candyman) — Layers of Fear 2 goes through the motions and doesn’t forge an identity of its own.
Clocking in at ten hours, there’s a lot of padding present. Each time you see a recurring theme as you push forward — a creepy mannequin, as an example — you’re desensitised to it; by the time you hit the game’s ending, you’re going to be fairly relaxed rather than tense. That doesn’t change during random sequences where a shapeless blob of a monster decides to chase you down a largely linear path. The monster isn’t hard to avoid, it’s just you’re sometimes not ready for it; having to see the same ‘game over’ screen after it catches you is more annoying and frustrating than terrifying.
While Layers of Fear was a jaunt into the unknown, Layers of Fear 2 has a strong sense of déjà vu that you carry with you from beginning to end; you’ve the feeling you’ve seen this before, and likely, more expertly done. Despite that misstep, it remains a must-play for horror fans who’re looking for a polished, atmospheric little fright. Emphasis on “little fright”, though — don’t expect too many scares. If you’ve not played the original, I’d recommend it over its sequel.
Layers of Fear 2 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.