This is an adapted transcript from my Layers Of Fear 2 review. I originally discussed this on an episode of my podcast, Button Slasher, but since the episode will likely be scrapped I’m putting it up here. Since this is a transcript, it’s nowhere near as polished as my usual written work.
- Layers Of Fear 2 (2019)
- Developer: Bloober Team
- Publisher: Gun Media
Key was received from publisher.
So the basic premise is that you play an actor on a cruise ship in around the 1930s. You’re making a new film on the ship at the behest of a mysterious, eccentric film director played by horror legend Tony Todd AKA Candyman. That’s about as clear as things get narratively, as I’ll discuss later.
I’ll start with the positives first. There’s solid writing throughout and the voice acting is pretty strong. There’s three main voices you’ll be hearing that all do a fine job, which is surprising since two of them are children. Tony Todd’s voice is fantastic and he really should do more horror games. There are some scenes where it sounds like he’s in the room with you but out of sight and those moments are so god damn creepy.
The art direction and level design is pretty damn solid, as you would kinda expect from Bloober Team now. Act Four is especially strong for this, and this level stands out for reasons that I’ll explain later.
There’s also a ton of movie references packed into the game, including some more contemporary titles that I didn’t expect, and it was fun to spot them.
Now, let’s talk about the negatives. I know that a lot of people criticise the first Layers Of Fear for being just a walking simulator with jumpscares, which is a sentiment I personally disagree with. I think Bloober Team maybe have taken this criticism to heart and just gone the other way with this. Whenever there’s a strong atmosphere that’s been built, it’s just ruined by these utterly annoying chase sequences. There’s several of these crammed into Act Two which genuinely made me take a break because I was getting so pissed off with them. It’s basically “run until bad thing goes away” and I can’t stress how tedious it gets. Combine these chases with instakills if you get caught, and some moments where it’s almost unavoidable and it’s just takes the fun out of the game.
So I mentioned earlier that the level design is really strong. This is marred by the decision to have most of the game in either black and white or, in the case of act 3, sepia. I understand why they did this, they wanted to keep the old film aesthetic, but it makes most of the game actually really dull to look at. Act Four is the exception, the majority of that level is really vibrant and colourful and I think that’s why it really stands out compared to the rest of the game. But overall it’s not that interesting to look at, especially compared to the colour palette of the first game.
The story is presented as the tale of an actor on a ship making a film, but most of the game actually focuses on two children who are stowing away on the ship. The subplot of the two kids and how they got to the ship is actually pretty compelling and sad, but their connection to the main protagonist isn’t explained at all, although I have my own ideas as to how they’re connected.
The biggest issue of the story is that it simply isn’t told very well. It’s perfectly possible to tell a story through metaphor but I feel like at some point you have to actually explain to the player what’s happening. The first Layers Of Fear mixed surrealism and storytelling very well. This game never bothers to explain what’s real and what isn’t, what’s past and what’s present, and what the hell the endings mean. They abandoned any semblance of a conventional narrative to just drown the players in metaphors and surrealism and the result is just… near-incomprehensible.
Is it scary? Not really. There’s the occasional creepy moment and the aforementioned strong atmosphere but there’s also an over-reliance on chases and pretty some weak jumpscares. There’s nothing in this that’ll give you nightmares and definitely nothing that’ll stick with you like in the first game.
Overall, there are flashes of brilliance. But it sabotages itself with some pretty poor design decisions and pales in comparison to its predecessor. It left me unsatisfied and can’t give this more than a 5 out of 10.