Layers of Fear 2, the highly anticipated follow-up to Bloober Team’s Layers of Fear, released this week with a brand new story to tell. Unfortunately, it seems the magic of the first has been somewhat muddled in the creation of this new chapter.
Set on a luxury cruise ship, Layers of Fear 2 is every bit as beautiful as its predecessor. Immaculate dining rooms and state rooms are open for exploration; gorgeous sunsets gleam through portholes and windows, and terror can wait around any turn.
Bloober Team also seriously upped their game in this sequel with sound design adding layers upon layers of directional sound.
Players step into the shoes of an actor who has been brought on board to star in a film directed by a reportedly deranged film director whose musings we hear in voiceover–by none other than Tony Todd (Candyman)–as the game progresses.
Unfortunately, the game seems to flounder, not only in purpose but also in storytelling.
The first hour or so of the game feels much like the first Layers of Fear. Players solve puzzles, rooms change in the blink of an eye, and strange voices whisper from the dark.
The developers deftly use jointed wooden mannequins to incredible effect in these scenes. It’s almost unbelievable how utterly terrifying an inanimate object suddenly moving can be, but the turn of a head or the shift of a hand can be truly startling in these circumstances.
Then things get strange.
Suddenly the actor comes face to face with a deformed creature who can and will kill you…instantly, again and again, until you figure out exactly how to navigate safely away from it. While this might work in other games where the player is expecting confrontation, it was completely unexpected in the Layers of Fear setting.
Not only did it pull me out of the storytelling space the game had curated to that point in the game, but the combination of slow game mechanics versus a very fast-moving monster left me frustrated and angry. What’s more, there’s very little signposting in this game. Many key moments you’re going to figure out only by trial and a lot of errors.
Once this confrontation aka running-for-your-life-while-slamming-doors-without-making-a-single-mistake challenge is over, the player finds themselves back inside the walk and explore model.
Unfortunately, this creates a very uneven gaming experience. It’s as though Bloober attempted to please everyone with this game and somewhere along the way lost sight of their objective.
Still, there is a lot to enjoy here, especially during those sequences where you’re exploring and putting together the story. Unlike the rather internal experience of the first game, Layers of Fear 2‘s story is more external, putting together the story of those who have sailed this ship before while trying to adapt to “the Method” that the director is asking you to take on for his film.
There are moments where the game asks you to simply give over to its madness and it’s up to the player to decide just how deep they’re willing to go in their exploration and immersion.
Can you accept the conceit of stepping out of an elevator on a ship to find yourself on a cobbled stone street while still accepting that you’re actually still on the ship? How about a door in slideshow that actually becomes a door?
If so, and I recommend you go with it, then you may find things to love in Layers of Fear 2.
Layers of Fear 2 is available on PC, PS4, and XBox now.