Layers of Fear is only partially the same as the previous Layers of Fear.
I really enjoyed Layers of Fear when it came out in 2016. It was an early part of that wave of narratively driven haunted house games that came along in the wake of P.T. and managed to feel quite unique when compared to many other horror games released at the time. I liked it so much that I even bought the DLC, which is a rarity for me. The sequel was considerably weaker in my opinion, losing a lot of what made the original so unsettling, and leaning more into quite cliche horror tropes. Regardless, these games really put Bloober Team on the map, and they’ve really chiselled out a niche for themselves as a development house with a panache for horror. They’ve now returned to what garnered them so much attention in the first place with a pack containing the two original games, along with the DLC as well as some new content. Confusingly, this is also called Layers of Fear, but I won’t overthink that.
Rather than being a direct remake of the two games, Layers of Fear tries to tie the events of these games together. This rerelease of sorts wraps the games into an overarching narrative of a writer who has been sent to an isolated lighthouse to complete her book that is seemingly based on the lives of the protagonists of the previous games. It’s a little convoluted, but if you have any knowledge of the series, then you already know that things won’t be entirely as they seem. As you play through the chapters of Layers of Fear and Layers of Fear 2, you’ll periodically return to the lighthouse to continue fleshing out the writer’s story. I liked this, as it’s a really neat way of having a remake collection without relegating the individual games in a series to a set of menus for you to go through, even though there is an option to play through the older games from the menu if you wish.
The game structures each part of the remake as a story about the protagonist within it, rather than explicitly naming it Layers of Fear and such. Instead, you will play through the Painter’s Story from the first game, the Daughter’s Story from the Inheritance DLC, the Musician’s Story which is an entirely new chapter, and the Actor’s Story from the second game before rounding everything out with the Writer’s Story. It does a good job of trying to bring everything together by having there be an overarching supernatural element to the tales, rather than them being about a creative’s dangerous obsession with their craft. For some, that may lessen the narratives that were originally told, but I found the connective tissue to be quite interesting.
A lot of the stories are pretty much the same as their original releases, with the artist, daughter, and actor going in pretty much the same way as they did before. The visuals and performance have had a significant upgrade though. The content from the original game in particular looks utterly gorgeous now, which is saying something as the visuals were quite excellent before. Lighting in particular seems to have received an outstanding upgrade, really drilling home the already fantastic atmosphere. It runs very well too on my 2-year-old PC. When I played the original games I found there were framerate issues quite frequently during the visually intensive scenes, but now it rarely dropped below 120 FPS, which is impressive when looking at the visual quality.
Of particular interest is the Musician’s Story, who is the wife of the original game’s protagonist. This is an entirely new chapter that rounds out the family’s narrative, but what’s particularly interesting is the visual design of it. Whilst previous chapters used lots of artistic flourishes to be in keeping with the theme, this doesn’t lean into music as much as you might expect. Instead, there’s a great focus on rust, grime, and chains on top of the series’ well-loved ‘world changes when you look away’ trickery. For me, it feels as though Bloober Team have used this as a little test for their upcoming Silent Hill 2 remake, so you could consider this a window into what’s to come from them. That isn’t to diminish this chapter of course, as it’s as solid as anything that has come before, but it is interesting to note.
Finally, the Actor’s Story is still the weakest of the bunch. It looks great and still has some interesting mechanics involving animating mannequins to open paths, but it relies so much on jump scares over atmosphere, and the sinister voice that cuts through the scenes feels excessively campy for what should be quite a tragic tale. I still enjoy the visual style on display, but the boat that it takes place on is devoid of the personality that the original house had. Still, it’s an interesting part of the overall narrative that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Some negatives have been held over from the previous releases, such as the ‘enemies’, if they can be referred to as such. You have a torch that can be shone at the spirit that’s harassing you to eliminate it temporarily, and that’s about it. It’s a little irritating during sections where you have to move through maze-like corridors to find items only to walk into the monster around a corner leading to a death. The checkpoints are fairly generous though, so you’ll lose little progress. These sections become more irritating than scary before long. Those checkpoints are helpful too as I ran into a number of bugs that forced me to quit to the menu, with the second game having quite a few occasions where I would be stuck in place or an item I needed wouldn’t have spawned. I hope these get ironed out as they are quite immersion breaking.
Finally, sometimes knowing where to go and what to do can be a bit unclear, sometimes devolving into wandering around until you find the thing you can click on. Additionally, getting the arguably good ending for the painter involves completing tasks that you probably don’t even realise you can complete without either scouring absolutely everything or using a guide. I don’t mind this as such, but I can see it being an irritation for some people. Luckily, the chapter select on the main menu can shortcut you getting to a different ending if you so choose.
I still love this series, even if the horror genre has moved on somewhat, with the likes of Visage and Madison really elevating horror narratives in games in recent years. Layers of Fear is an excellent package that has a good tale to tell and a wonderful atmosphere and visual style that is still impressive today. Whilst the Actor’s Story leaves something to be desired, the full package here offers a lot, and the pricing of it is excellent considering what you get. If you’re a fan of horror and missed out on this originally, I’d certainly recommend giving it a go.