Bloober Team has garnered quite a reputation over the last few years. While I had not yet played Layers of Fear up to this point, 2017’s Observer impressed me with its striking world and extremely tense narrative. And now, having just finished Layers of Fear 2, I can safely say that they’re one of my favorite developers within the genre. Layers of Fear 2 might not be the quickest moving nor the longest of games, but it’s one hell of a ride regardless. I didn’t expect to come out of it feeling this impressed, but here am I singing it praises.
Layers of Fear 2 throws you into the deep end as a big shot Hollywood actor who has just signed on with a mysterious and infamously capricious director who’s shooting a film aboard a transatlantic ocean liner during the 1920s. Things don’t seem to be going the right way when you suddenly start seeing hallucinations, visions of your past self, and a whole bunch of creepy dolls as you walk around exploring the ship trying to piece together just what is really going on.
I despise jump scare media as a whole, and I generally steer clear of games and movies that resort to that kind of tactic, so playing Layers of Fear 2 proved to be quite a different experience than what I’m used to playing since it has its share of those scares, plus a few others. First-person horror games are especially tense to me, and after having played through the first Outlast, both of Amnesia, Alien Isolation, SOMA, and Call of Cthulhu, I felt like I was ready to take on a less action-heavy game like this, and to an extend, I was.
A lot of what makes Layers of Fear 2 so effective at providing those moments has to do with how Blooper built its world, and how that acts as a storytelling device on its own. The ship starts out in pristine order when you first step into your private room, and as the game’s five acts develop and the story moves from point to point, it slowly becomes something else entirely. Without risking spoilers, I’ll only mention that Layers of Fear 2 develops into something more than a simple exploration game throughout its seven-hour runtime, and proves to be more than a mere ‘walking simulator’.
Its puzzles are pretty bare bones, but they work to provide a sense of development that would have otherwise felt rushed if you merely had to click away at interactive objects. Due to the time in history the game takes place in, cinema was at its infancy, with George Mélies’ work being its highlight for the time, and Layers of Fear 2 pays the man homage many times via the puzzles you solve.
One type in particular has you flip through slides in order to make a door appear in the projection, with familiar scenes playing out on screen. Some homages are more straightforward, like another scene where you put together a fake tin spaceship that eventually flies over to a moon and crashes into its surface. Other puzzles deal with simple math and even a bit of photography. They proved to be entertaining all throughout my time playing for sure.
While not nearly as intense as the xenomorph from Alien Isolation or the scary naked dudes from Outlast, Layers of Fear 2 few chase sequences proved to be a little annoying to me thanks to the long, winding death screens that followed their cornering me, but thanks to some decent checkpointing, I never really had to replay much in order to be back to running away from them again. I would’ve much preferred having a more cerebral encounter with the faceless monstrosity that pops up at various points during the game, but that’s the card that Layers of Fear 2 deals, and I’m okay with having one negative aspect in an otherwise great time I had playing it.
In terms of presentation, Layers of Fear 2 is as effective as Bloober’s previous games. It’s one of those games that are really worth playing with good headphones on, and visually, it’s extremely dark, so playing it at night makes it that much more effective. I’m contractually obligated (okay, not really!) to mention that one of my favorite horror actors, Tony Todd — known for headlining the Candyman anthology and the top cast in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead — plays a pretty big role in this game and his incredibly deep, raspy voice adds a lot of gravitas and intensity to his character, as expected.
I have to warn those reading who are less than excited with the prospect of playing a game like Layers of Fear 2. Although it’s quite easy to finish due to its linearity, I can’t guarantee you won’t be a little disturbed with its delivery of horror. Although it doesn’t come close to the gore and intense action of say, the Resident Evil 2 remake, having it be a first-person spook fest makes it instantly a really “in your face” type of ordeal, and if you’re not into the idea of having to make your way through a game like this, you might want to avoid Layers of Fear 2. I won’t blame you — I would’ve done the same if I weren’t reviewing it. On the other hand, I’m glad that I broke through my prejudice and gave it a shot. Maybe the same will happen to you, but that warning is still valid.
To all extent, I had every reason to abhor the notion of playing Layers of Fear 2. Even though I had a great time playing all of the horror games that I mentioned during the course of this review, I did so while forcing myself to go beyond my personal limits in order to enjoy some games that were hailed at their specific moments in time as fantastic experiences, and I’m hoping that my account might do the same for Layers of Fear 2. For that, and thanks to the sheer spectacle that it offers, I can say that Team Bloober is a studio to watch out for, for damn sure.