With the many hit horror movies and shows that have come out recently, some say we’ve entered a new golden age of the genre. While horror has always proven ubiquitous, lately it has shifted away from shock-value and back towards thought-provoking. Many of these new installments feature more atmospheric horror and derive their scares from their stories. Layers of Fear 2 happily falls into this category, delivering a sense of dread through eerie visuals and a subtle yet effective narrative.
You play as an actor on a luxury cruise ship, brought aboard for a new film project. The reclusive director, voiced by a wonderfully foreboding Tony Todd, encourages you to “find your character.” Bloober Team splits the game into five acts, each of which focuses on a different aspect of you preparing for this role, while simultaneously shedding light on what exactly transpires on this voyage.
If that description sounds vague, it reflects the game’s narrative well. You piece together the plot through investigating the many rooms and objects aboard the ship, and you can easily miss something that may prove valuable. Layers of Fear 2 boasts a subtle story, which does get more direct in the later acts. Likewise, the game features many references to famous films, some more obvious than others.
But what about the scares? Like the puzzles that make up much of the gameplay, the scares serve the story rather than the other way around. The sumptuous visuals of the game really bring the world to life, making it all the more jarring when the surroundings of the game shift behind your view. Was there a door there? Did that hallway get shorter? Again, these subtle shifts keep you guessing, and tie into the themes of sanity. The sounds adds another layer (ha!) with unsettling classical musical and creepy whispers coming from closed doors. For those craving more overt horror, occasionally monsters show up and chase you. Some may find these less scary as the game goes on and they get more predictable. In my play-through, they occasionally glitched through doors or got stuck on corners, which made them more pathetic than fright-inducing.
Unsurprisingly, a few moments in, the game reference The Shining, and I found one of the more extended of these sequences indicative of the game as a whole. It has great atmosphere, fantastic animation, and story elements that feel original while paying homage to the horror classic, but not all of the gameplay mechanics prove reliable. Flaws stand out when everything else works on such a high caliber, but they by no means ruin the experience.
Like its predecessor, Layers of Fear 2 features multiple endings depending on choices you make throughout the story. Players should recognize the various ways you can play through the story, and I made a conscious decision to follow a specific route in my play-through. Late in the game, I became unsure if I did things “right,” but ultimately I found that I had, and received a satisfying ending appropriate to how I had played. The source of my temporary confusion came from one ambiguous act meant to fit any of your pre-made choices, which the game could have gone without. Nevertheless, the game can end in vastly different ways, that ultimately leave the story up to various interpretations. The game deals with theatrical themes such as motivation, character, and method, providing thoughtful and frightful fodder for film fans to think about.
Layers of Fear 2 provides an atmospheric horror story that uses scares to its advantage. Despite some buggy mechanics, the game contains beautiful and haunting visuals, varied gameplay, and satisfying plot elements incorporating classic films.