Isn’t it strange that some of us just love to be frightened out of our wits? We want things to go bump in the night. We want those jump scares to be relentless, hitting home thick and fast. We want every essence of our being to squirm and feel uneasy so we’ll have trouble sleeping for the next year or so. It’s the nature of a good old fashioned horror that makes us feel this way. And it has to be said that the original Layers of Fear did all of that with bells on, providing a festival of fear with a great narrative and some amazing effects. Can Layers of Fear 2 deliver the frights once more?
Personally, it’s been hugely pleasurable to learn that in Layers of Fear 2 we play out proceedings in the role of an actor who has arrived on a strange cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. See, when I’m not playing 20 games a week, and spending hours fixed to a controller, I attempt to play out my real world life as one of those said actors. I guess therefore this is perfect for me. Then the horror began… much like my acting career.
Layers of Fear 2 sees you summoned to the ship because you are auditioning or filming for a big part in a movie. The setting takes place somewhere around the early 1930s (at least I think it is, for it is never really specified) and you wander around this ship discovering its secrets and horrific mysteries. The story is told through a series of clues; notes you might find strewn across the location or by the scenes of the game that play out via weird flashbacks and strange dream-like sequences.
Basically though you have three narrative threads running through. One is the main actor’s journey through the ship, trying to work out what is real and what is horror. You have another thread where we find the story of two sibling children who like to play pirates and make believe, overwhelmed by the fear of a possible horrific presence roaming around and hunting them. The third story is the tale of the actual crew of the huge ship and you find pieces of the story through notes, objects, and flashbacks on your journey. There are loads of mini-narratives that arc from these main thrusts, all of which you will discover on the way. The writing across the board is excellent, poetic, scary and beautiful. It feels like the developers have used all their experience from the first game to now hone their experiences to perfection for the sequel.
The gameplay is much the same as it was the first time around in the original Layers of Fear, where it’s all about the journey and the experience rather than worrying too much about the interactive gameplay. That’s not to say the game isn’t still bags of fun and there are some very neat tricks that play out in that department. Basically put though, you walk around the space, crouching through vents and obstacles, interacting with pieces of scenery, items and puzzle elements. However always at the back of your mind will be the use of the ‘run’ option and you will need to master this because there are times when you’ll be found racing around the ship in fear for your life. And that’s all because one of the most terrifying creatures I’ve ever seen in a game will chase you around the ship and your only action is to fly through the dark claustrophobic corridors, closing doors behind you quickly. It’s always fun rather than annoying when you die, and it really does make the adrenaline pump; the chance of an impending heart attack is usually very close.
There are also many puzzle elements to Layers of Fear 2, ones that I really enjoyed, and whilst I don’t want to spoil them here the development team have done some great things; ideas that I’ve never seen before in a horror game. It is an immense step up from the previous game, which was already very good, but if you feel that the linear approach to the game, the horrific jump scares and the lack of not being able to fight back is a bit of a hindrance, then perhaps this isn’t a game for you.
The visuals are great too, with some lovely use of light and shadow. It’s the mixture of styles and tones that really work brilliantly here, and in some levels we’ll find Layers of Fear 2 swapping seamlessly between monochrome and colour in its design, while in others the rooms and textures become warped, with the dimensions thoroughly distorted and played out like that of a child’s point of view. There is a pretty heavy use of the humble mannequin again, which has become a very familiar horror game trope lately, but they use them in a very interesting and disturbing way at all times. A big shout out goes to the B-movie live-action title screens that are in place; I adored them every time I saw them.
And then we get on to the audio, and you are instructed to play with headphones on for the true horror experience. This instruction should be followed depending on a number of factors. Have you a brave enough soul? Do you crawl up into a ball and cry just by hearing someone shout ‘boo’ behind you? Are your walls insulated enough so the neighbors won’t hear you screaming and call the police? Well, the sound is excellent with a disturbing and thrilling use of jump cuts, soundtrack, and effects. This goes for the voice actors too; all are very gifted and portray their parts wonderfully.
To conclude, and if you are a big fan of horror games and enjoyed the first Layers of Fear then you are in for a bit of a bonus with Layers of Fear 2. The developers have enhanced their storytelling skill, their puzzles and their fright-night tone in the making of this new game, and I’ve loved the writing, the visuals, and the amazing sound design. Yes, it’s a very linear experience and at times can feel a bit “on rails” but the imagination on show here is sublime. However, should you have not been a fan of the first game, or aren’t big into the horror scene, then I don’t feel that you will be getting a lot out of this game. If, like me, you like that feeling of uncertainty and adore checking out spooky shadows and strange whispers in the night, then Layers of Fear 2 is the game for you.