As far as sequels go, Layers of Fear 2 certainly isn't the worst example of the "let's do the same thing, but on a boat" mentality — that honour will certainly remain in the hands of Speed 2: Cruise Control for generations to come. Unfortunately Layers of Fear 2 won't stand among the most groundbreaking second instalments either, with only a few licks of paint and a better voice acting budget to separate it from its predecessor. The experience is far from terrible, but it's so average that I'm in danger of forgetting its details as quickly as its amnesiac protagonist.
Each chapter's loading screen is a charming throwback to early cinema.
You don't have to have played the first Layers of Fear to appreciate the sequel, as both game's stories are self-contained. In fact, players new to the series might find the narrative marginally more interesting because they won't be cognizant of the sequel's same tired premise — one that wasn't particularly original in the first place. From a first-person perspective, your anonymous character silently staggers around various corridors in pursuit of their own fractured memories, as they try to make sense of the nightmare they have become trapped in. Where the first game had players stumbling around a house, this time the setting is a cruise ship in the early 20th century. In practice the setting makes almost no difference; it's still a shifting maze of doors and corridors, and unfortunately it's too tedious a setting to inspire much engagement.
Ostensibly this is a horror game, and certainly there are plenty of jump scares to go around. But Layers of Fear 2 misses the crucial step of ensuring players are emotionally invested in the character's survival, giving us a reason to be afraid. The characters are even vaguer shapes than they were in the first game, and the central mystery of who the player actually is only serves to distance us from any sort of empathy. We don't really care about anyone's chances of escaping because we don't know who anyone is beyond some murky shapes and piecemeal dialogue snippets. Because of this, jump scares are more irritating than genuinely harrowing.
This guy is a real pain.
Unfortunately one thing that has been ramped up is the amount of chase sequences, in which the player is accosted by a blobby looking celluloid ghost. If we had a a solid reason to care, these sequences might be more effective, but unburdened as we are by any sense of attachment to the protagonist we are left railing at the clunky sprint mechanic and mazing paths so anonymous that it's far too easy to miss a crucial turning. Too often I wasn't really sure why I was caught, or where I was actually supposed to go — partly because of the strange choice to have the setting turn monochrome whenever the chase was afoot.
This is a particularly frustrating detail because one welcome change is to the game's colour palette — instead of a generic house inlaid with brown wooden finishings, the cruise ship has rich detail and even some improved particle effects. This nice detail is hamstrung however; colours are frequently drained to a boring monochrome or sepia as memories start to take shape, as well as the fact that the game's third chapter has the player go around in circles through the same rooms far too often.
There's a scattering of simple puzzles, but nothing especially memorable.
There are still a few high points. There's a nice section on the film set of a pirate ship that feels nicely eerie, and the mannequins will certainly do a number on any players susceptible to shifting statues. But ultimately there's nothing original in using grasping hands to unsettle a player — even in the last couple of years excellent games like Hellblade, The Evil Within and Detroit: Become Human have all employed that same tired trope, bolstered by a strong script and an emotional core. Layers of Fear 2, ironically, has none of these layers — leaving the player with a bunch of reasonably well presented horror stereotypes and not much else besides.
This insistent blandness carries over into how players interact with the world. Like the first game, the action is almost entirely funnelled through a set of linear corridors and doors; even though there are lots of doors in each area, invariably only one of those will unlock at your command. This strict linearity is a common mistake in trying to emulate a good walking simulator; most of the best examples of the genre allow for non-linear exploration as they piece their own version of the story together. Instead Layers of Fear 2 insists the player follow its own confusing path to enlightenment, and the emotional payoff simply isn't worth the journey.
Every horror trope is paraded on stage, but no one is pulling the strings.
Despite this negative perspective on the game it's hard to call it a total failure. It's well constructed mechanically and it delivers a passable short-term game experience. If you're a casual visitor to the horror genre but can't cope with the really big scares, maybe Layers of Fear 2 will be a reasonably entertaining diversion. There's ultimately nothing wrong with the game — it's just that there's not much right with it either.
Unfortunately the same uninspired approach extends to the achievement list, where players will find they are looking for three endings just like the first game, as well as a bunch of different collectible sets that somewhat stretch out the thin narrative. We already have a few decent guides on the game's achievement page, and given the excellent walkthrough for the first instalment we predict it won't be long until our community has a great full guide for the second. You'll need a few partial playthroughs to get everything, but don't worry — although New Game+ seems to take you all the way back to the beginning, you'll find an in-game chapter select room shortly after the prologue.
Check out our Best Xbox Adventure Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
SummaryDespite its name, Layers of Fear 2's main problem is that there isn't anything going on under the surface. It's a competent enough walking simulator with a few decent jump scares and a little bit of mystery, but with no interesting mechanics to speak of and no effort to help the player feel attached to the vague story it's hard to justify the play time to anyone. If you were a big fan of the first iteration and need more in your life, you won't find anything particularly wrong with Layers of Fear 2. For anyone else, there's simply too many better examples of both horror games and narrative walking simulators to recommend stepping aboard.
The reviewer spent 10 hours treading water to reach one of the game's three endings, earning 15 achievements in the process. An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher.
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