Archives by Day

December 2023

Layers Of Fear

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bloober Team
Developer: Anshar Studios (EU), Bloober Team (US)
Release Date: June 15, 2023

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PC Review - 'Layers of Fear'

by Andreas Salmen on Sept. 21, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Layers Of Fear is a first-person psychedelic horror chronicle focused on tense exploration and immersive storytelling.

Bloober Team's Layers of Fear is barely seven years old, but we were already treated to a reworked collection that toes the line between remake and remaster, bringing the entire series into the current generation. Similar to Observer Redux before it, the new Layers of Fear collection is developed by Anshar Studios and runs on Unreal Engine 5, reimagining the creepy and claustrophobic tales of three artists battling with traumatic experiences within the confines of their art.

Throughout the collection, we follow a painter in an old mansion, an actor aboard an abandoned cruise ship, and a writer in an old lighthouse, and they're all battling their own demons. There are visual improvements, a few gameplay alterations, and some extra story content to tie together the otherwise unrelated storylines of Layers of Fear 1 & 2. If Layers of Fear didn't interest you in the past, this visual upgrade won't change that, but if you want to experience the best possible version of these games, this is the version you'll want to pick up.

Bloober Team has had a successful run recently. With the well-received The Medium and a remake of Silent Hill 2 due shortly, it's interesting to look back at the games that put Blooper on the indie horror map. Often considered a creepy walking simulator, Layers of Fear is still largely that: a linear adventure with incredible sound design, great visuals, and a never-ending stream of jump-scares. I'm not usually into horror games, so Layers of Fear tested my fragile nerves at the beginning, but it eventually proved to be a worthwhile if repetitive trip into the darkest depths of our protagonists' psyches. Horror veterans will find the experience less enticing, since a lot of Layers of Fear's scares eventually become predictable. Even so, what remains is a solid and beautiful-looking collection of horror indie gems that are worth experiencing at least once, especially if you prefer a creepy atmosphere over outright horror.

Layers of Fear isn't a particularly great title for this collection, given that this remake consists primarily of previously released content in the series (and some DLC), while sharing the same name as the initial release of the first game. In this collection, we experience the story of a writer who's locked away in a lighthouse on a lonely island to work on her new book. Soon enough, our protagonist witnesses strange events around the lighthouse, which eventually lead into the story of both Layers of Fear and Layers of Fear 2. The writer interludes are the main story additions to the collection, and they tie together the two mainline entries into a somewhat cohesive storyline. That seems to be the main purpose of the Layers of Fear collection: offering a way to play through the entries and DLC without the feeling of playing games that were released years apart from one another with little substance linking them beyond a conceptual design.

The actual gameplay — whether it's the main games, the DLC, or newly added content — still remains largely the same. Aside from the new writer sections, we follow the story of a painter who's been left alone in his mansion and is struggling to reconstruct his latest masterpiece. The experience seems to unlock further memories and snippets from the past, and we try to work through its meticulously crafted layers. As we stumble through creepy and winding hallways, we slowly unearth the events that led him to the point of insanity. It's this exploration of trauma, art, and the human psyche that mixes well with the concept of being terrorized by unsettling noises and visuals in a mansion that's creepy without disembodied events unfolding around you. Luckily, if you enjoy this first entry, two short DLCs further examine the same story through the eyes of the painter's daughter and wife to offer a spin on the events and furthering the story in a meaningful way.

Layers of Fear 2 is the other mainline story we get to experience. This time, we take control of an actor boarding a cruise ship to meet with an eccentric director — only to find himself trapped in the bowels of a ship filled to the brim with mannequins and movie references. Again, it's an exploration of the human mind, the pursuit of art, and the sacrifices made to realize it.

As either protagonist, we usually make our way through narrow hallways. It's a fun concept on paper, and the Layers of Fear collection confuses you by frequently changing the scenery and layouts as you look away. That is the main gimmick for the entire collection, which easily runs 10-15 hours. What I still found reasonably clever after the first game wasn't nearly as mind-blowing or interesting by the mid-point of the second adventure. Oftentimes, running into any kind of roadblock or dead-end is a big hint that you're unlikely to see the same hallway that you came from.

Both titles now feature a flashlight to fend off the occasional interaction with supernatural manifestations, making the interactions a lot less stressful. For the second entry, the flashlight has additional uses, as creepy mannequins are brought to life when exposed to light; that offers up a few alternative puzzle possibilities over its predecessor. That said, the general structure and gameplay are rather similar, with most puzzles being either rooted in architecture, sightlines or a number combination. It's never enough to stop you in your tracks for too long, but it's enough for you to soak in the atmosphere as you search for the occasional key or item.

That may sound repetitive, and it eventually is — both on the gameplay side and on the scare tally. Layers of Fear loves its jump-scares, so much so that they can eventually become stale or telegraphed to a degree that somewhat ruins them. It also doesn't help that scares are more often inflicted by moving furniture than actual scary monsters or beings. For a horror-adverse person like myself, that is actually not the worst thing that can happen, but if you're expecting spine-tingly horror moments, this really isn't it.

The atmosphere does the heavy lifting, especially the sound. Waves crash against the ship's hull as a thunderstorm throws rain against the windows and lights up rooms for seconds at a time. The brittle walls creak as if someone is walking right past you. When it's present, music is used to elevate the atmosphere, and it's paired with excellent visuals, especially lighting and materials. The Layers of Fear collection looks and sounds absolutely stunning, and the audio elevates the experience substantially — even if the excellent audio-visual craftsmanship is regularly undermined by somewhat repetitive gameplay. What keeps Layers of Fear consistently engaging isn't its scares; it's the atmospheric immersion into these locations that kept me interested when the gameplay did not.

With impressive visuals usually come challenging requirements. We reviewed the Layers of Fear collection on the PC and were impressed with its performance, even in the initial release version before any post-launch updates. We were reviewing with a 3080/5600x combination, so that maybe isn't as surprising, but we were seeing very consistent frame rates that often trended in the double or even triple digits on a 1440p resolution. Overall, the Layers of Fear collection ran and performed very impressive and without any noticeable issues or crashing throughout the entire runtime.

Layers of Fear really brings a lot of improvements that amplify the game's strongest aspect: its immersive atmosphere. Audio and visuals are almost impeccable in this release, and they're truly worth experiencing. That said, playing through all of the content on offer in this remake/remaster collection does stretch the gameplay a bit too thin over its runtime, and it slowly wears out its welcome. What remains is a repetitive and sometimes tame horror adventure game that's worth experiencing for its presentation alone.

Score: 7.0/10

More articles about Layers Of Fear
blog comments powered by Disqus