Indie Horror has had a great few months lately. And you could even say a great few years. Back in 2016, the horror game Layers of Fear arrived on the scene, telling the story of a tortured artist (to the highest degree). Freaking out players with its shifting environments and gothic romance gone awry. The game spawned DLC and a sequel. And now, you can experience all this and more in the strangely named… Layers of Fear.
Game Name: Layers of Fear Platforms: PC (reviewed), PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S Publisher: Bloober Team SA Developers: Bloober Team, Anshar Studios Release Date: June 15th, 2023 Price: $29.99
So is This a Remake of Layers of Fear or What?
You’d be easily forgiven for thinking Layers of Fear—2023 edition—is a remake. Bloober Team initially announced the new game as Layers of Fears. But perhaps because that sounds awkward, they dropped the extra “s.” In reality, this Layers of Fear is a bit of a remake, collection, and director’s cut.
Breaking it down, the new game contains the original Layers of Fear, its Inheritance DLC, and Layers of Fear 2. But it also includes a new DLC chapter (if you’d call it that) for the original, entitled The Final Note. The two main games arrive not on a selection screen—though you can access them that way as well—but as layered beneath a new framing device involving a writer staying at a lighthouse. In short, this game has layers.
Framing the Frights
The new narrative of the writer starts the game off. Immediately, it’s clear that this is no simple remaster. The lighthouse’s interior looks suitably eerie, with shadows dancing from the storm outside. Light flickers around the rooms, denoting the unreliable generator. Our writer heroine arrived at the remote location as a prize for winning a writing competition. Her reward? More writing.
This framing narrative isn’t particularly scary, nor does it have the depth of the full titles within. Still, Layers of Fear deserves praise for explaining the writer’s situation in as little time as possible. Her story as a struggling writer mainly serves to provide context for the main events: the original two Layers of Fear games.
The Art of Building Suspense
After the first chapter with the writer, the game dives into a remake of the 2016 original. It dips back to the writer once about halfway through. But otherwise, it’s the original game, looking better than ever.
The original Layers of Fear remains a solid beacon for building suspense. As the tortured artist, players explore the ever-shifting landscape of their home. Walk into a room, turn around; it’s a whole new room. Thanks to the power of Unreal Engine 5, the trick gets pulled off better than ever.
The game relies heavily on the wonder of that for a while. Gradually it introduces puzzles into the mix, starting with some simple ones. They never get too complicated. However, the game uses this time to hint at the “monster” the artist must confront or hide from. Once this entity reveals herself, she stalks the player throughout the hallowed halls.
While this could get frustrating, Layers of Fear mitigates this with a trusty lantern that players can use to temporarily dispel the spirit. The game also uses her sparingly, increasing the scare factor for when you’re sneaking along, then suddenly stopped by the sounds of her sobs.
Layers of Fear 2 Ups the Spook-Factor
If the original game has one thing against it, it’s time. As mentioned, many great horror games have come out in the last few years. As such, the light puzzle gameplay of the original game feels a bit slim. Thankfully, Layers of Fear 2 came out more recently. And so it feels fresher with its puzzles and scares. Each game has multiple endings, and while the parameters for those in the original can feel obtuse, this one delineates them more clearly. The story is still subtle, but ultimately touching.
Layers of Feat 2 also has a setting that adds more variety compared to the dank hallways of its predecessor. In this one, a tortured actor (notice a theme here) rehearses a new role onboard a cruise ship. This ship has lavish compartments, but the real thrill comes from all the references to classic films in the various dreamlike sequences tying it all together.
The cherry on top of this layered cake comes courtesy of the voiceover work. The performances in the other titles work fine, but having legendary horror actor Tony Todd as the director? That’s artful, indeed.
Side Helpings of Horror
Layers of Fear’s bundled collection doesn’t have a single bad offering. That said, the thinnest layer—in both length and quality—comes from Inheritance, the original game’s DLC. It does provide a heap of clarity to the first title’s somewhat obfuscated narrative. That said, it has the least demanding gameplay and very little horror.
Is it a walking simulator? In some places, it’s practically a crawling simulator, as the artist’s daughter relives her earliest memories. Thankfully, unlike the two main games and their framing narrative, it’s optional. This comes as a relief since my playthrough glitched out a couple of times, with one glitch locking me out of an ending.
But if Inheritance marks a low point, the other optional piece of side content, The Final Note, proves a high point. It helps that this short addition, also around an hour and a half long, isn’t technically DLC from the first game but rather an entirely new creation. As such, it feels the most novel out of anything in Layers of Fear. Rooms don’t just change; they become increasingly smaller and more claustrophobic, reflecting the inner psyche of the artist’s wife.
The choices here have the most clear delineations. As such, it’s easy to get an ending that feels genuinely earned rather than accidentally stumbled upon. If the earlier offerings show where the Layers of Fear series began, The Final Note proves a solid note to end on.
Review Disclosure Statement: Layers of Fear was provided to us by Bloober Team SA for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear serves as a kind of director’s cut for the horror series. With lavish visuals, new content, and a new framing device, it proves the definite way to experience the series. Those who’ve already played the games won’t find much they haven’t seen before, but The Final Note chapter adds a fun, spooky new layer.
The visuals look suitably spooky in Unreal Engine 5.
The underrated Layers of Fear 2 still plays great.
Binaural audio is top notch—especially with Tony Todd’s deep baritone.
New framing device and a new chapter show the series in its best light.
The mechanics of the earlier entries can feel a bit quaint.