PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
June 15, 2023
Bloober Team, Anshar Studios
When you are walking through familiar places, you don’t expect jump scares around the corner. But with Layers of Fear, there is no such thing as a safe place. Familiar paths change rapidly, beings pop up from unexpected places, and there’s always a puzzle to solve. Tense up as you view the stories of several individuals, wondering what they did to deserve this psychological torment.
Layers of Fear is a compilation of every game in the Layers of Fear series. This includes the first two games, Layers of Fear (2016) and Layers of Fear 2, along with all the DLC. The original stories have not changed, but are told in a staggered structure thanks to the addition of a new story. You experience all the stories at different times to weave together a complete narrative that fills in the blanks from the first two stories.
The atmosphere, visuals, and audio come together in a perfect blend that ramps up the horror elements. Jump scares pop out in unexpected ways which keep you on your toes at all times. Horror isn’t limited to just jump scares, as you learn each character’s story through increasingly horrifying notes. Navigation is confusing at times and it can be unclear where you should go. But that’s not a big deal if you can fight your fears and dive into the horror.
Experiencing stories in a different structure
Layers of Fear involves characters from the first two games and adds a third. Players of the series will remember The Painter and The Actor, and will now explore The Writer’s story as well. These stories are connected but the link isn’t immediately clear. Instead of viewing one story and moving on to the next, you experience different parts of all three stories as if they were one narrative. This helps you experience the relevant parts of the story and learn how they connect with each other. It also prevents you from forgetting crucial parts by diving too deep into a single story.
The stories of The Painter and The Actor are the same, with sections of the story overlapping with The Writer. It’s an odd choice at first because it isn’t obvious when you change stories. As you continue playing and start making the connections, the story becomes clearer and it’s easier to understand. If you can get past the initial awkwardness of the story structure, you get a narrative that comes together in a satisfying way.
Narrative story where you decide the future
Each character in Layers of Fear has their own story which you explore through notes scattered around. As they progress through various areas, these notes form a background story, often jumping forward to show the passage of time. The actions you take throughout a character’s adventure will affect the ending you receive. Thanks to the story’s structure, you have multiple opportunities to influence how it all unfolds and take breaks in between. It’s a refreshing structure that might be confusing at first, but helps you see how the stories connect with each other. This also helps you take “breaks” between stories, saving your progress and preventing you from restarting at the beginning.
The Painter and The Actor have multiple endings which require certain triggers throughout your adventure. Travelling through the entire story can be repetitive, but there is a chapter-select option to replay individual sections. This helps you make different choices with save files separate from the main adventure. It’s useful for investigating different endings without ruining the choices you made in the initial adventure. Seeing different endings without replaying the whole game is easy and makes it more likely you will experience them.
“If you’re willing to give it a chance, it lets you put the story together and experience the horror of the character’s past.”
Learning the story through reading notes and picking up objects can be jarring to players who prefer cutscenes and exposition. The information necessary to obtain different endings isn’t obvious to players, which is frustrating without a guide. Thankfully, it’s a form of storytelling that takes time to show itself. If you’re willing to give it a chance, it lets you put the story together and experience the horror of the character’s past.
Scares around every corner
Layers of Fear is a psychological horror game that focuses on jump scares and a creepy environment. Other horror games use low light and loud noises to frighten you, but Layers of Fear goes beyond that. Beings emerge from the ground to grab you and force you to restart from a checkpoint. Opening a door might not work because something is on the other side. Seemingly normal events produce unexpected results on a frequent basis.
Since you don’t take damage in this game, any “death” simply restarts you from a checkpoint. Some players might use that fact and bravely run throughout the game, knowing that nothing is going to threaten them. But by adding unexpected surprises in seemingly normal places, even veterans can be caught off guard. You never know what trick is around the corner or what you are going to see, which adds to the horror. The audio is also perfect because it’s silent most of the time. That heightens other noises, especially when ambient sounds like rain become normal. You won’t know what’s causing the noise or if it’s something you want to look at. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, such as trying to solve a puzzle while some being is chasing you. The sounds are just as horrifying as you imagine, loud enough to cause a jump scare.
Thanks to the overall environment, the fear factor is elevated. Even if it’s a brightly-lit hallway, you never know if the environment will suddenly change. Dark places are naturally creepy but could also be the safest areas. You never know what to expect even when the fear of death isn’t around. The constant threat of something unexpectedly scary looms throughout the game and it’s startling, yet fun to experience.
Navigation can be confusing
One downside to the game is that navigation isn’t easy, which isn’t helped by a constantly changing environment. You can sometimes tell when a path isn’t available, such as when a door is locked. Unfortunately, due to environmental changes, that door can sometimes be unlocked even without a key. The dark lighting interferes with your sight, though you will come across a lantern you can use. It’s not perfect and needs time to recharge, but it helps in some instances. While exploring the environment and getting trapped is part of the thrill, it can be frustrating. The horror stops being scary because you can’t see where you need to go. It’s also possible to get motion sick due to the constant searching, even if you dial back the sensitivity.
It’s frustrating to try every single door or look for keys that don’t exist. Dodging enemies while you solve puzzles is scary at first, but loses its charm when you hit another dead end and must get caught to continue. Having some markers or colours that point out where you must go helps keep the tension without confusing players. Otherwise, most of the horror is replaced with frustration and the core experience disappears. Layers of Fear is meant to scare you because you aren’t sure what’s happening next, instead of being a nightmare to play.
An excellent way to tie the games together
Layers of Fear is horrifying and tells a good tale, with several jump scares sprinkled throughout your adventure. The story structure isn’t the easiest to follow, but eventually pays off if you make it to the end. The environment, visuals, and audio work perfectly together, actually making you dread going around every corner or opening another door. It’s not perfect, as storytelling solely through notes can be confusing as there is no way to revisit them. Navigation is also difficult and eventually becomes frustrating without any help. But it remains a great way for scaring people who want a new way to experience psychological horror.
- Staggered structure leads to a good payoff at the end
- Unexpected jump scares that scare even veteran horror players
- Easy to view multiple endings
- All story twists are properly addressed
- Note-based storytelling is hard to keep track of
- Navigation can often be frustrating
Layers of Fear is a great finale to a frightful series, tying together all loose ends and scaring you at every turn. The staggered story structure is confusing at first, but pays off when the game finally ends. Unexpected jump scares and a dark environment terrify even the most experienced horror veterans. Learning the backstories of each character and choosing different endings gives you control of the narrative. It’s also easy to replay stories if you want to see different endings. The note-based storytelling and navigation difficulty can turn away players looking for a simpler experience. But for a psychological game that chills you to the bone, it’s hard to find something as good as this.