If there's one thing that Layers 2 gets very, very right, it's the audio. Tony Todd is a menacing presence as the director, and music is rolled out at the right moments to enhance the atmosphere. Voice acting for the most part is strong.
The corridors and other parts of the cruise liner proves an evocative and interesting environment, albeit one that soon becomes a little samey. Offshoots into the surreal inject variety, but they're invariably sludgy, dull sequences. Occasional glitches and laggy frame rate don't help either.
There's little fundamentally wrong with how the game plays per se, but having to wait at a door as it loads in the next area, the constant running from that amorphous lumpy lad, and the some ham-fisted puzzles don't leave a particularly pleasant taste in the mouth.
Longer than the first game, Layers of Fear 2 spreads itself far too thin, and as such, repetition inevitably creeps in. Narrative intrigue helps drive the game to a point, but annoying trial and error sequences leech away the horror, replacing it with abject boredom.
A serviceable list that optimistically hopes to coax you in for a second playthrough, and while a New Game+ might be tempting, it's doubtful you'll want to return to Layers of Fear 2 in a hurry. Collectibles flesh things out a bit.
May 24, 2019
A pleasantly terrifying surprise upon its release, Layers of Fear proved to be a survival horror with creeping atmosphere to spare. Telling the macabre tale of a painter going to extraordinary lengths for his art as his mind slowly unravelled, the first Layers of Fear proficiently deployed disturbing imagery and audio to great effect. Layers of Fear 2 hews closely to a similar formula. Like its predecessor, the sequel wheels out jump scares aplenty, using every trick in the book to elicit a response. Is it as effective as the first game? Not quite.
Set aboard a colossal cruise ship, Layers of Fear 2 conjures a very different kind of atmosphere with a very distinctive 1930s vibe, your role as another type of artist becoming very clear within the opening moments of the game. 'Build your character' the instructions of the ominous director (voiced by Candyman actor Tony Todd) demand, prompting you to explore the confines of the Titanic-esque vessel that serves as the setting for a movie shoot. You're the star of said movie, and whether you choose to follow direction or ignore it is entirely down to you.
Like the first game, your choices determine the ending you'll get, but ultimately, the journey isn't nearly as effective at generating tension as the first game. Where Layers of Fear created a sense of claustrophobia and never really gave you a solid foothold in reality - the house in which you're trapped shifting and changing from one moment to the next - the sequel seldom manages to achieve the same kind of psychological horror beats.
Perhaps the game's biggest problem is a reliance on frustrating trial and error chase sequences, during which you're pursued by a malformed blobby apparition that will absorb you into its unctuous, blobby maw if it catches you. And as there's no way of predicting where he'll appear next, these segments – brief as they may be – are complete and utter nonsense that more often than not result in a fail state death screen. These bits are less scary, more shit, to be frank.
'Game Over' was something you seldom saw in the first Layers of Fear, but for some reason, developer Bloober Team has decided to add it for this one. Layers of Fear 2 is also now divided into five acts, each with their own theme and title card, making the game feel far less seamless than its forebear. Granted, the different acts reveal distinct parts of the narrative and provide greater insight into your character, and are in keeping with the theatrical motif, but as a result the game feels slightly 'bitty'.
Despite Layers of Fear 2 committing the cardinal horror game sin of not actually being particularly scary, the game does wear a great deal of its cinematic horror influences on its sleeve, from the red drapes and mise en scene of Twin Peaks to The Shining with its own take on the hedge maze and The Overlook Hotel's iconic carpet, or the Wizard of Oz with its Emerald City. Hell, there are even ghoulish twins at the end of a hallway at one point for The Shining fans. For those with even a passing fancy in horror cinema, you'll get a kick out of the nods to genre classics.
Clearly, Bloober knows its onions when it comes to film; even Georges Melies' 'Le Voyage Dans La Lune' gets a look in with its own unusual reference. It's when Layers of Fear 2 takes these flights of fancy that it's at its most interesting, yet for the most part it leans into the same tropes again and again, presenting you with mannequins galore again and again, contorted into various poses and eerily animated in an almost Ray Harryhausen-style stop-motion way. But when the wooden dummies fail to terrify you the first time, repeating the same trick ad nauseam simply isn't going to work.
There's a handful of fairly decent puzzles to solve as you stroll through the labyrinthine corridors of the HMS Odyssey, but very few will strain the grey matter all that much. Primarily, you'll find yourself walking through far too many doors, entering rooms, then looking for the next door out, hoping you don't run into stupid blob man. Layers of Fear 2 will live on in the memory once the credits have rolled, such is its capacity to create surreal and unusual scenes, but beyond being adept at formulating memorable imagery, Layers 2 isn't that memorable a game.
It's a shame, since it's evident that Bloober has strived to create something more ambitious than its first effort, but unfortunately fallen short of the mark. All too often, the game resorts to needless surreal weirdness, as the director pushes you into performing certain acts that lead to an unsatisfying, shrug-inducing end. It's disappointing that Layers of Fear 2 fails to push the envelope and deliver something that really gets under your skin; the only thing that will is the frustrating unpredictability and the lack of coherence throughout.