2023 has been the “year of the horror remake” courtesy of both Dead Space and Resident Evil 4, which rebuilt the beloved horror classics for the current generation of gaming. With the two genre titans hogging all of the attention, you may not have noticed that another notable horror series is also making a return this year, as Layers of Fear has officially arrived for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S on June 15, 2023. Veteran horror developer Bloober Team’s new game is a remaster/remake/reimagining of the popular first-person horror series, which started seven years ago in 2016. Let’s peel back the Layers of Fear to analyze the latest entry and determine whether the series is worth revisiting in the current generation of gaming.
Nightmare Come True
The newest iteration of Layers of Fear combines every previous entry in the series into one $29.99 package, giving gamers a chance to explore or reexperience the original Layers of Fear (2016), its expansion pack Inheritance, as well as Layers of Fear 2 (2019), along with new psychological horror stories including The Lighthouse Chapter and The Final Note, which tie-in to the original games, creating a cohesive narrative. The series has been upgraded for next-gen gaming with the help of Unreal Engine 5, providing ray tracing, HDR, and 4K resolution to the first-person gameplay.
For those unfamiliar with Layers of Fear, the series combines psychological horror, walking sim gameplay mechanics, lite-puzzle solving, and, most interestingly, an emphasis on artistry to brew its unique gaming concoction. The new horror title centers around artists of varying mediums, who find themselves trapped in surreal, nightmarish predicaments where the only way out is to venture deeper into the madness.
Layers of Fear features five playable characters, each with their own unique chapter in the Layers of Fear mythos. The Painter’s Story puts players in the role of an artist drifting further into insanity as he attempts to complete his magnum opus. The Daughter’s Story spotlights the painter’s daughter, who explores her childhood home to uncover the disturbing truths of her past. The Actor’s Story presents the harrowing voyage of a ship-bound thespian taking on a challenging role from a mysterious director. The Musician’s Story tells the tale of an ex-violinist/pianist suffering from severe burns and injuries, trying to breakthrough to find a way to rekindle her artistic glory. All of these chapters are interspersed between the game’s main narrative, which is told from the viewpoint of a ’50s horror writer, who finds herself isolated in a secluded lighthouse, playing the starring role in a nightmare even more frightening than her twisted imagination could conjure.
This Game Has No Windows and No Doors
When it comes to creating a spooky atmosphere and ambience, this series is truly in a league of its own. At its core, Layers of Fear is horror done right, as the various environments provide the kindling to spark spine-chilling moments, hair-raising frights, and full-fledged jump scares. There is an impressive relatability in the terror found in Layers of Fear, as the scariest aspect of the game is not its monsters, but rather the visual and auditory design, which utilize familiar sights and sounds to terrify players. With doors creaking in the night, the pitter patter of footsteps closing in when you are supposed to be alone, a glimpse of something moving out of the corner of your eye, the feeling of being watched when no one else is around, Layers of Fear will undoubtedly find a way to creep you out.
However, the new release does not merely settle for life-like horror, but ventures into the surreal realm, recreating the feeling of being trapped in a nightmare. The series’ latest offering continues in the franchise’s tradition of sending players on a mind-bending, claustrophobic journey with rooms that shift before your very eyes, walls that close in around/behind you, and a setting that simply defies all logic and reason. There is no running away or hiding from the horrors that lie ahead in Layers of Fear, as the doors will lock behind you, or vanish altogether, forcing you press onward to the next room. This game will leave you feeling disoriented, isolated, and dreading the next scare that could be lurking just around the corner.
Despite its undeniable, terrifying highs, Bloober Team’s remake/remaster/reimagining includes a number of glaring flaws that simply can’t be overlooked. While there is a palpable dread to be found in Layers of Fear, the game overstays its welcome by recycling scares and over-relying on a spooky atmosphere to the point that the fear starts to fizzle.
“I was left on the edge of my seat, when I was ready to jump out of it.”
The sights and sounds that begin as terrifying start to fade into the background as more time is spent in Layers of Fear’s world, and the game never truly lives up to its horror potential, failing to reach the next gear of terror. In short, I was left on the edge of my seat, when I was ready to jump out of it.
Furthermore, with a name like “Layers of Fear,” the gameplay experience is surprisingly one dimensional. The loop consists of repeatedly navigating the haunting rooms, taking in the eerie sights and sounds, reading lore items, solving simple puzzles to progress to the story, and occasionally running away from/fighting an incoming monster. Rinse and repeat. The gameplay is not bad per se, as the first-person vantage point/camera angle is masterfully executed, but Layers of Fear never builds upon its early game mechanics, creating a highly repetitive experience.
On the subject of repetition, the “combat” found in Layers of Fear is arguably the most detrimental gameplay component, as it has the twofold impact of undermining the horror, while simultaneously feeling tedious. Avoiding spoilers for those who haven’t already played the previous-gen versions, Layers of Fear features sections with monsters that only be stopped through the use of findable lanterns/flashlights, which serve to temporarily stave off the creatures, allowing players to escape to safety. The combat is overly simplistic, repeated too frequently, and feels out of place in the larger Layers of Fear experience. It almost seems like the developers would have been better off leaving combat out of the game entirely.
Mama, This Surely Isn’t a Dream
Layers of Fear is a game that knows exactly what it is, and for the most part excels at it. This is a very solid horror walking sim without much major criticism to be found, but it never strives to become anything more than that. There is frightening fun to be had in Layers of Fear, yet I can’t help but feel that the game was content on being just good, when it could have gone down in history as an all-time great in the annals of horror with some slight gameplay tweaks.
For hardcore horror gamers who loved Layers of Fear in the previous generation, or those who have been dying to try out Bloober Team’s successful series, Layers of Fear (2023) is the definitive franchise experience, well worth your time and money. However, despite my personal enjoyment of the new horror title and its previous games, objectively, Layers of Fear’s superficial gameplay will likely scare off players who want more than a story-driven walking simulator.
LAYERS OF FEAR
● Terrifying atmosphere/ambience
● Textbook horror
● Excellent use of first-person viewpoint
● Highly repetitive
● Overly simplistic gameplay mechanics
● Combat needs major improvement
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PlayStation 5.