Layers of Fear 2 Review

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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.

 

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31 Days Of Horror Games FINALE – Day 31: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010)
  • Developer: Frictional Games
  • Publisher: Frictional Games

We made it. If you’re reading this on the 31st, Happy Halloween! If you’re reading after, I hope you got up to lots of spooky shenanigans. We’ve reached the end of the 31 Days Of Horror Games, and what better way to round it off than with the title widely considered to be the greatest horror game of all time? Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent brought about a change in the way horror games worked. Before this, the most popular horror franchises were Resident Evil, Dead Space and Silent Hill. All of these games focused on combat in one way or another. Amnesia’s decision to have no combat at all, and to have you running and hiding from the enemies, was seen as innovative. When you think about the ridiculous number of “run-and-hide” horror games made since 2010, it makes perfect sense.  Continue reading “31 Days Of Horror Games FINALE – Day 31: Amnesia: The Dark Descent”

31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 30: Honorable Mention – Ravenholm

As the 31 Days Of Horror Games draws to a close, I thought I would mention a non-horror game, that just so happens to house a particularly terrifying level. 

Ravenholm – Half Life 2

  • Half Life 2 (2004)
  • Developer: Valve
  • Publisher: Valve

“That’s the old passage to Ravenholm. We don’t go there anymore.” Alyx Vance tells you as you pass an ominous looking steel door in Half Life 2’s Black Mesa East. When, inevitably, a Combine attack forces you into Ravenholm, it’s not hard to see why. Once a bustling mining town, Ravenholm is now decrepit and infested with zombies. Part of what makes the Ravenholm level so startling is the massive change in tone from everything you’ve gone through before that point. Sure, you’ve encountered zombies previously in the game, but not on this scale. The streets are crawling with the creatures, and there’s not a lot of ammo available. That means you’re going to have to get creative with your trusty Gravity Gun. Sawblades, paint cans, bricks; if you can pick it up, it’s a weapon. Continue reading “31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 30: Honorable Mention – Ravenholm”

31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 29: P.T

  • P.T. (2014)
  • Developer: Kojima Productions (as 7780s Studio)
  • Publisher (Fuck) Konami

What do you get when you take a corridor, a bathroom, a vengeful ghost and two of the greatest minds in games and movies today? You get P.T, one of the most infamous horror games of all time, and the most tragic “what could have been” in all of gaming. Famously, P.T was developed by Kojima Productions under the pseudonym “7780s Studio” and released onto the Playstation Store with very little fanfare. Word of mouth quickly spread about just how incredibly terrifying the game was, and those who completed it were shown a cutscene revealing what the game truly was; a new Silent Hill game! P.T, standing for “playable teaser”, was a preview for Silent Hills, a new game in the series being developed by Hideo Kojima, with creative contribution from filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro and starring The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus.  Continue reading “31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 29: P.T”

31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 28: SOMA

  • SOMA (2015)
  • Developer: Frictional Games
  • Publisher: Frictional Games

Throughout the 31 Days Of Horror Games series, you may be wondering to yourself, “Eli, you’re talking about all these horror games, but which is your favourite?”. Well, here it is. SOMA is my favourite horror game. It’s a fucking masterpiece. Frictional Games, who already had a horror hit with the hugely successful Amnesia, drag players into an incredibly immersive, atmospheric experience that asks questions about consciousness and the nature of what makes a human being. SOMA was basically asking if machines can be human long before David Cage tackled the subject.  Continue reading “31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 28: SOMA”

31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 27: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

  • Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (2017)
  • Developer: Capcom 
  • Publisher: Capcom

It’s 2012. Resident Evil 6 has released, and things are… not looking good. Reviews are mixed, the general opinion amongst players is negative, and even some of your most dedicated fans are saying that the Resident Evil is dead. Capcom responded in 2015 with Resident Evil Revelations 2, a side game that people felt was a step in the right direction, but was still hampered by the focus on action and somewhat bizarre plotting. So what was next? Luckily, Capcom went and made Resident Evil 7, the shot in it’s rotting arm the series desperately needed. Continue reading “31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 27: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard”

31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 26: Layers Of Fear

  • Layers Of Fear (2016)
  • Developer: Bloober Team
  • Publisher: Aspyr

Love them or hate them, so-called “walking simulators” have become a very popular method of telling stories in video games. From Dear Esther and Firewatch, to more “interactive” titles such as What Remains of Edith Finch, they come in various levels of quality and gameplay. Many criticise them for being boring. But no one, absolutely no one, could call Layers Of Fear boring. A psychedelic head-trip into the mind of a disturbed artist, what Layers Of Fear lacks in interactivity it more than makes up for in creeping, gnawing terror.  Continue reading “31 Days Of Horror Games – Day 26: Layers Of Fear”