Being an actor was a dream job for lots of kids in school. It came up a lot when teachers asked in class.
There’s something alluring about the glitz and glamour, the spotlight and recognition. For adults, the money would be alright as well.
I was definitely one of those kids until I realised I couldn’t act for toffee and would never make it. And now I’ve played Layers of Fear 2, it’s killed all my dreams completely dead. Because if being an actor means you can get called to places that try to give you a heart attack for fun, I’ll stick to office work, thanks!
Layers of Fear 2 is a game with an unbridled, menacing atmosphere. Each corner turned often greets you with the gravely voice of the Candyman himself booming in your ear. Filter changes mean the mood and vibe regularly fluctuate and help maintain the semblance of uncertainty behind every door.
And there’s chase sequences where you better hope you remembered to shut the door behind you. It’s horror at its old school finest, but the kick is that this time you’ll find yourself onboard a ship, not traipsing through an old manor house.
What’s all that got to do with acting? Well you play the role of a Hollywood actor who’s looking for a job and just so happens to find himself on an ocean liner. A cryptic, creepy Director has cast you in the lead role and so you go explore an abandoned old steamer, watching poor dummies get mutilated and burned alive and finding weird shit everywhere.
The Director keeps throwing these philosophical sound bytes at you, while you’re trying not to get freaked out by random jump scares out of the corner of your eye. You know the drill by now.
There’s an occasional bit of puzzle solving, like finding the combination for a safe, and even routes through a maze but essentially, this is a journey of exploration. Specifically, opening lots of doors to see what’s behind them.
But it would be unfair to call Layers of Fear 2 a walkthrough experience. You do get to interact with objects and as mentioned there’s a few puzzles here and there, but for the most part you’re following a relatively linear path.
I say for the most part as the game does let you make different decisions in certain circumstances and it’s up to you whether you go off-script, or remain faithful to the director’s rather macabre vision. That can lead to some interesting divergence in the story and, in fact, even lead you to one of three different endings.
However, Layers of Fear 2’s selling point is its environments. They are so beautifully designed and the setting feels very fresh for a horror – I mean, it’s Pirate Horror for Blackbeard’s sake. Amazingly, as well, it’s one of the more unsettling gaming horrors I’ve played for a while.
Bloober have got the tone so right here and aesthetically, everything slots neatly into place, but you’ll need to be patient with it. This definitely takes a while to get going
That said, it also feels very by the numbers. The structure and flow of the game feels relatively samey throughout, and there’s a bit of a disconnect with the story as – to be honest – you’ll spend most of it wondering what the point actually is. Not that plot has ever been massively needed in a horror, but it doesn’t help when it often feels like you’re just wandering from one set piece to the next.
There are clues dotted around and interesting snippets you pick up on which, sometimes clue you into what’s coming next and sometimes seem to come to nothing. Ultimately, though, if you’re expecting a drastic evolution over Bloober Team’s original game then this will be a bit of a rude awakening.
If you’re after that then, my advice, play Observer instead. It’s a cracker!
But the gradual descent into madness and the peeling back of the layers of a character serving to ‘play a role’ is a fascinating take on horror and Bloober should absolutely be commended for not playing it safe and going convention in a sequel.
As a horror, it doesn’t quite match up to other greats this year, lacking the genuine sense of peril and desperation I found in Resident Evil 2, or the emphasis on uncertain horror in a Metro Exodus. Yet Layers of Fear 2 still has enough about it to get under your skin and mess with your mind. Plus there’s a real sense of creativity here, something horror is scarcely associated with nowadays.
Layers of Fear 2 is now available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Tested on PS4.
Code supplied by the publisher