Layers of Fear originally came out in 2016 and was an ambitious title that sought to bring atmospheric horror to new lengths. Almost 7 years after the original release, Bloober Team has decided to semi-remake the 2016 original, the 2019 sequel, and its DLCs in Unreal Engine 5. What is here is very familiar to the original product with very little reason to visit, but if you are a fan of Bloober Team projects, you may find admiration for art here. In our Layers of Fear review, we take a look at what works, and what doesn’t.
The game lets you experience all of the previous entries in the series in one complete package. The game includes 2016’s Layers of Fear, 2019’s Layers of Fear 2, and the Inheritance DLC from the first game. In addition, there is a new story here about an African-American woman in 1955 who is sent to a lighthouse to work on a new story which is an entire chapter of its own.
As you complete each game, you unlock the next section and even get to play the aforementioned new content as a new protagonist and setting which really adds to the value of the game.
This is certainly the definitive way to experience the world of the Layers of Fear universe, and there’s a lot going on. You jump from the shoes of a painter with a rocky relationship with his wife to an actor on a cruise liner until you play the new character stuck in a lighthouse.
Characters and Horror
Each protagonist has their own demons to fight, a past to overcome, and other troubles to try and conquer if they are to move on with their life.
A lot of the story is hidden behind finding objects in the environment such as items around the house as you explore in the form of notes, objects, letters, and more. We learn more about the painter, his wife, and other people who played a role in their relationship.
These can be pleasant or unpleasant memories, exploring the fall of a relationship through environmental storytelling. You have to go through multiple routes and paths in order to paint the final masterpiece, but whether the journey is worth it or not is for you to decide at the end of it.
If you have played the previous Layers of Fear games, you already know what you are in for. This title combines both of the previous entries into a single package and putting them all in one title with a brand-new engine is a treat for new and old fans.
For an atmospheric horror game, the horror element is sometimes lacking. A jumpscare is very pronounced and the game had a few moments of catching me off guard, but nothing I wasn’t prepared for. While some of the scary stuff was surprising to see, the story of the game was a more memorable experience rather than the horror element.
The gameplay loop is relatively simple. You move from room to room, collecting an object, solving a puzzle, collecting pieces of a story or the canvas along the way until you have a part of the picture, and then move on to the next part of your painting. Each part of the painting you collect sends you down a deeper rabbit hole of new game mechanics and tricks to learn if you are to survive your perilous trip down memory lane.
There is a lot of detail in the world, but they’re primarily interior set pieces with you going from a hallway to a room, and back. You can get up close and admire the art and environment in each location but the purpose of exploration here is to check every nook and cranny of your environment before moving on with the story.
There is very little to do here in gameplay, aside from the occasional puzzle that blocks your progression, and even those will just take you a few minutes to figure out.
The game introduces you to new mechanics as you progress through the story. Door opening and closing now works akin to Amnesia games where you have to move the mouse or the joystick in the direction you wish for the object. Pull the mouse or joystick toward you to pull an object and vice versa.
Another new aspect here is giving the player artificial weapons for the Layers of Fear and Layers of Fear 2 protagonists. In the former, you use a lantern to dispel red objects to progress the story and even enemies that chase you at certain segments. In the latter, you use a torch that also allows you to manipulate certain objects in the environment such as mannequins, and temporarily stop the enemy chasing you at certain segments.
All in all, there is nothing complex here like other survival games for you to master. The mechanics are simple and easy to understand. With how short each game is, you will remember each thing on a new playthrough easily.
The highlight of the game is the updated engine to Unreal Engine 5. The game is absolutely splendid but that does little to fix the flaws with the game’s approach to horror. While this would have greatly helped with the presentation, it’s evident that the developers wanted to tell a combination of a scary game paired with a story about loss, suffering, and a descent into madness and the new engine helps facilitate the visual aspect of it.
The game offers two game modes for this – Graphic lets you see the ray-tracing, and reflections with better realism, but caps the framerate at 30FPS, while performance reduces the visual quality for a smoother 60FPS ride.
The halls and rooms are memorable and scenic, with some of the paintings coming to life in some portions of the game with great attention to detail for each room, painting, and more.
I went back and forth with both modes, but I noticed that the frame drops on the visual mode were easier to see than on Performance mode, but I am sure this is nothing a day-one patch can’t knock out.
With Unreal Engine 5 still a relatively new engine, it is good to see the full fidelity of it in a game like Layers of Fear where art is the central element and theme.
Audio design is also great with a lot of sounds in the environment. Whether you’re listening to the thunderstorm on the outside of the manor or the whispers in the hallways, the sound is another great aspect of the game. Some objects you pick up will have their full text read to you by an audio transcript, and others will make you read them, but this is a minor encumbrance.
Layers of Fear is a familiar game on a fresh canvas. With little to no changes between the previous titles except the inclusion of a new character with their own story, you should only play the game if you are looking to experience the series for the first time or were a fan of the original titles and want to see what Bloober Team made.
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This review is based on the PS5 version of Layers of Fear. The key was provided by Bloober Team.