LAYERS OF FEAR 2 / DEVELOPER: BLOOBER TEAM / PUBLISHER: GUN MEDIA / PLATFORM: PC, PS4, XBOX ONE (REVIEWED) / RELEASE DATE: 28TH MAY
Team Bloober’s 2016 psychological horror opus Layers of Fear ended up being something of a sleeper hit that seemingly came out of nowhere. Despite very little hype and next to no press prior to its release, LoF received (mostly) excellent reviews and really scared the bejeezus out of a lot of people. Now that Bloober are less of an unknown commodity and expectations are significantly higher, can the talented Polish devs live up to the lofty standards they set for themselves?
Set on board a massive cruise ship, players take control of an actor who has been invited by an eccentric director to star in his latest production that is being filmed on said cruise ship. As soon as you board, it’s clear that everything is not as it seems, and the central protagonist is almost immediately forced to face some demons and traumatic experiences from the past. It’s worth noting that none of the characters or events are linked or connected to the first game. Aside from some nods and tropes (as well as a few hidden Easter eggs), this is an entirely new narrative.
Gameplay has a very similar feel to the first game, but also carves out a path of its own. The term ‘walking simulator’ is often seen as more of criticism or an indictment than a genre of game, but that was how a lot of people described the first LoF. Bloober seem to have taken that on board, and have subsequently made LoF2 a far more interactive and perilous affair. While the first game felt more like a constantly moving succession of scares, LoF2 has a much greater emphasis on exploration and confusion. Many sections of the game play like self contained puzzles, and you’re likely to find that a fair amount of your first playthrough time will be spent scratching your head. The peril mainly comes from a somewhat ‘stalker horror’ (popularised in games such as Resident Evil 3 and Alien Isolation) style mechanic, where you will be chased by a merciless formless being that will one-hit-kill you if it comes into contact with you. These sections are, frankly, bloody terrifying.
While there’s no doubt that LoF2 is an extremely scary, stylish and well made game, we feel that with the over abundance of puzzle sections and overall slower pace (when compared to its predecessor) it somewhat loses the sense of identity that made the first LoF so special. Some of the puzzles are really interesting and rewarding, but many of them feel like pure guesswork. This does tie in with the surreal nature of the game, but that same surrealism can often lead to a lack of context. The limited lighting and dark colour tones fit perfectly with the mood, but it can be a little frustrating when you are often wandering around in the dark, straining your eyes, desperately looking for something to interact with.
The story (despite a slow start) remains intriguing throughout and moves along at a nice pace. We did, however feel that the first game’s narrative was a little more gripping (and possibly a bit scarier), and there were certainly moments here that felt like they were leaning towards the side of pretention. There are a lot of hidden meanings and subtext throughout, so you’re more than likely still going to be at least a little confused come the closing credits.
Overall, LoF is a terrifying but somewhat flawed game that we almost feel bad for criticising due to how well made it is. Recommended to lovers of the first game, horror buffs and fans of old movie references. Brown trousers advised.