I know what everyone is saying. ENOUGH WITH THE WALKING SIMULATORS! Layers of Fear 2 may have the look of a walking simulator with jump scares, but the sequel offers atmospheric settings, puzzles to solve, and a whole lot of mannequins. There is also an engaging story, choices which affect the game, and multiple endings. There is a lot more here than reading letters and opening doors. But is it enough?
Layers of Fear 2 puts the player in the role of a renowned actor. A movie is being shot on a luxurious ocean liner. Over the course of the game’s eight hours the story unravels. The protagonist of the story is dealing with a past they would rather forget while also coping with an overbearing director. There are also themes of sanity and control.
There is much more to the story which unfolds in acts. Much like a good movie, the story will draw players in at the beginning with an intriguing premise. It seems obvious why the actor is here, but do they really want to be? Is the director friend, foe, or something in between? The narrative is strong enough to keep those who play on board through the end, but it is a bumpy ride.
Layers of Fear 2 can be very cliched. This is seen most obviously in its use of mannequins. It seems like at the end of each corridor or behind every door you open are mannequins. And when there are mannequins in a horror story, there is only one thing they can do. This is the case here as the inanimate objects seem to move whenever the player turns their head.
Even though it is something that has been seen many times before, it works. Quite simply, there are time honored traditions in horror that will always instill unease in the audience. Creepy mannequins are one of those tropes. They are also used perfectly in Layers of Fear 2. Not only are they there to make players scared, they even become actors in the tale.
Regrettably, the jump scares are not as creative. Occasionally, they will succeed in scaring the player, but just as often, it is easy to telegraph them. Jump scares have become so overused in gaming this is less of a knock against the game itself and more of a statement about how uneven the game can be. There is an excellent scene where the actor is trapped in a corridor by flames in front of them. The obvious solution is to turn around, but Layers of Fear 2 offers an ingenious moment that amps up the fear factor. It is a shame this creativity is not seen more.
Layers of Fear 2 has a great atmosphere. Much like mannequins, being trapped in luxurious surroundings (an ocean liner is as effective as a mansion) is an aspect of the horror genre audiences can always connect with. This is not a game that tests the limits of the PlayStation 4’s capabilities like Red Dead Redemption 2, but it is just as beautiful in its own way. Players will find themselves admiring the world they are in.
The story does start to feel a little long. Though the game tries to keep players engaged with different puzzles and its nuanced story, there is not much variety. Before long, the plot amounts to walk down this corridor, open this door, be scared. Even worse, the game has some frustrating chase scenes that if failed lead to instant death. It makes sense; you are just an actor, after all. Still, the game is frightening enough without adding a layer of run and hide or die.
Layers of Fear 2 almost sounds like it is too artsy for its own good. There are numerous references to movies, the plot deals with an artist fighting madness, and an argument can be made that a knowledge of the technical side of film and acting will increase its enjoyment. It does have its flaws, but Layers of Fear 2 is a creative and engaging game that scares by being familiar and offering something new.